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No Rest for the Weary

Shira Yehudit Djlilmand

“As the day went on, I’d feel drunk and dizzy. My head would go down on the desk and I’d be out. Then I started to fall asleep at the wheel. And in the middle of the night I’d wake up sweating, gasping, trying to breathe, and then fall back asleep. I thought I was just overtired from overwork. It wasn’t until my husband began to wake me up at night, scared, telling me ‘You’re not breathing!’ that I realized there was a real problem” – sleep apnea sufferer

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

So what is sleep apnea? “Apnea” is a Greek word literally meaning “without breath” and that’s exactly what happens to a sufferer. The common scenario described by every sleep apnea sufferer (or their spouse) goes like this: heavy snoring, followed by sudden silence when the sufferer stops breathing, broken by a loud gasp as the sufferer tries to get some air, and then snoring again as the sufferer falls back to sleep.

An apnea is clinically defined as a “cessation of breath that lasts ten seconds or longer,” although in practice, apneas can last anything from just a few seconds to almost a minute. A sufferer can experience hundreds of apneas during one night’s sleep, which effectively means that the sufferer gets very little sleep, and the sleep he does get is not the deep sleep that the body needs.

Although sleep apnea is as common as diabetes, it isn’t well known. In the US, according to the National Institute of Health, over twelve million people suffer from sleep apnea, but an estimated ten million more remain undiagnosed. This means that millions of people are not receiving the treatment they need to battle sleep apnea, a serious disorder with potentially fatal consequences.

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), by far the most common form, which occurs when the air passage in the back of the throat becomes blocked; central sleep apnea (CSA), when the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breath; and mixed sleep apnea, a combination of the two. Whatever the type, sleep apnea is a disorder that has a major impact on the sufferer’s day-to-day life and can also cause a heart attack or stroke.

“The recent death of high-profile individuals from heart disease partly caused by untreated sleep apnea has drawn public attention to the condition,” said Edward Grandi, executive director of the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA), “but many medical professionals still really don’t have a good understanding. With research, that’s changing, but people should understand that the impact of sleep apnea on a person’s life can be significant.”


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