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Often-Overlooked Sleep Apnea Can Lead to Health Problems

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Snoring may keep you or your partner up at night, but it could be more than just an annoyance. It may be a sign of sleep apnea, which can lead to serious health problems. NY1's Jill Urban filed the first part of her two-part report.

When you are sleepy, there is nothing better than a good night’s rest. Unfortunately, though, no matter how tired, people with sleep apnea just can’t rest easy.

“Sleep apnea means that when you relax in sleep the muscles in your throat relax enough so that you have difficulty breathing or that your breathing actually stops,” says Dr. Carl Bazil of New York Presbyterian/Columbia.

That means you are not sleeping effectively. It’s estimated that about 18 million Americans suffer from apnea, but Dr. Carl Bazil of NY Presbyterian Columbia says many more likely have it and don’t know it.

The problem is most people brush off excessive sleepiness or think loud snoring isn’t a big deal, but if it’s from sleep apnea it is a big deal.

“Sleep is actually a complicated phenomenon. Your brain does a lot of things when you are asleep. It’s not just resting. What you need for effective sleep is to go through all these different stages. If you have sleep apnea, you never get into deep sleep. Every time you try, your breathing stops and your body wakes you up.”

That affects more than just your energy level, too. If untreated, sleep apnea can lead to things like high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and other serious health problems, but it is treatable.

“If you have sleep apnea, the best treatment is usually what we call positive airway pressure. It’s a machine that blows air and keeps your airway open when you sleep. It may sound annoying, but people sleep much better and they feel much better,” Bazil says.

Alternative options include special mouthpieces or nasal strips, positioning, or even surgery. The key thing is to find out of you have it. If you have persistent daytime sleepiness or extremely loud snoring, it may be worth checking with your doctor. A sleep study can track and monitor sleep and breathing patterns.

Sleep apnea is most common in people who are overweight and in men over 40, but it can also be found in children. Yes, kids can have apnea too, but the causes and treatments are very different.

If your child snores or has difficulty sleeping, stay tuned for my next report where we’ll take a look at a possible cause for that state of unrest.

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