Sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening disorder, is marked by obstruction of the upper airway during sleep. This causes pauses or breaks in a person's breathing, preventing air from entering the lungs and forcing the person to wake briefly to start breathing again before falling back to sleep. The person with sleep apnea is usually unaware of this. The interruption to breathing can occur hundreds of times a night, resulting in markedly fragmented sleep. As a result, people with sleep apnea feel excessively sleeping during their normal waking hours.
Individuals with excessive sleepiness suffer from drowsiness, reduced concentration, and an overwhelming desire to sleep when they need to be awake. This leads to changes in mood and personality and a general reduction in quality of life.
Snoring at night, headaches in the morning and daytime exhaustion characterize sleep apnea. Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, impotence and even death.
It can afflict all age groups, men and women alike, although it is somewhat more common in men, especially those who are overweight. Women around or beyond the age of menopause also seem to be at increased risk. An estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, and approximately 38,000 people die annually from complications caused by it. Tragically, former Green Bay Packers superstar Reggie White was one of those people who lost his life due to complications of sleep apnea.
If you think you might have sleep apnea, get evaluated.