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Sleep Apnea

Many overweight people suffer from sleep apnea and have difficulty staying awake during the day because stopping breathing interferes with deep sleep, causing them to wake up tired each morning. A report in Archives of Internal Medicine shows that obese people are at high risk for suffering from daytime sleepiness (1), even when they do not have sleep apnea. If your spouse notices that you stop breathing for more than 10 seconds more than 10 times an hour during sleep, you may have sleep apnea.

If your doctor suspects sleep apnea, he will probably refer you to a sleep specialist. Most of the time, you will be diagnosed as having sleep apnea. Since there are no effective drugs, you will usually be given a special CPAP machine. Some people adapt easily to the CPAP machine and benefit from it, but others find it uncomfortable and cannot sleep with it on. Sleep apnea can cause heart attacks. It may be caused by having asthma (2) or blocked heart arteries (3).

There are two types of sleep apnea: in one, the airway is obstructed, in the other, a person just stops breathing with no obstruction and is usually overweight. If you are overweight, you should get on a program of diet and exercise to lose weight, the most effective treatment for sleep apnea. People who have obstructive sleep apnea should be treated for their asthma or nasal obstruction If you snore loudly, check with you doctor to see if you need cortisone nasal sprays or antibiotics. If you feel sleepy during the day, the most effective treatment is a nap. Some people with asthma do not have respiratory obstruction; they just stop breathing and are normal. They may have been incorrectly diagnosed as having sleep apnea because normal people stop breathing for up to 10 seconds as many as 10 times a night. When you fall asleep, your eyes are still and you sink deeper into sleep. This is called Non-Rapid-Eye-Movement sleep. Then your eyes start to move rapidly from side to side underneath your lids. This is called Rapid-Eye-Movement sleep, in which most normal people breath rapidly and then as slowly as every 10 seconds.

If you suffer daytime sleepiness, inability to stay asleep at night or stop breathing for more than 10 seconds more than 10 times a night, the answer may be as simple as taking naps each afternoon or whenever you have an overwhelming feeling of tiredness.

1) Vgontzas AN et al. Obesity without sleep apnea is associated with daytime sleepiness. Archives of Internal Medicine 1998(June 22);158:1333-1337.

1a) J Wright, R Johns, I Watt, A Melville, T Sheldon. Health effects of obstructive sleep apnoea and the effectiveness of continuous positive airways pressure: A systematic review of the research evidence. British Medical Journal 314:7084 (MAR 22 1997):851-860.

2) LG Larsson, B Lundback, AC Jonsson, M Lindstrom, E Jonsson. Symptoms related to snoring and sleep apnoea in subjects with chronic bronchitis: Report from the Obstructive Lung Disease in Northern Sweden Study. Respiratory Medicine 91: 1 (JAN 1997):5-12.

3) S Andreas, R Schulz, GS Werner, H Kreuzer. Prevalence of obstructive sleep apnoea in patients with coronary artery disease. Coronary Artery Disease 7: 7 (JUL 1996):541-545.

4) HM Engleman, SE Martin, IJ Deary, NJ Douglas. (improvement)Effect of CPAP therapy on daytime function in patients with mild sleep apnoea/hypopnoea syndrome. Thorax 52: 2 (FEB 1997):114-119.

5) H Schafer, S Ewig, E Hasper, B Luderitz. Failure of CPAP therapy in obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome: predictive factors and treatment with bilevel-positive airway pressure. Respiratory Medicine 92: 2 (FEB 1998):208-215. OSA resistant to initial CPAP are morbidly obese with impaired awake blood gas values.

Checked 9/2/17

May 30th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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