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Health Team

Treating Sleep Apnea: Better Nights, Safer Days

Posted March 9, 2007 5:12 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2007 6:36 p.m. EST

— If you have trouble sleeping at night, it may be more than just having a lot on your mind. It could be sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a disorder that affects up to 20 million Americans, but only about one in five know it. There is a simple solution, however, and it could save your life.

Driving is one activity where poor sleep can show up as a danger. Sleepy drivers are a danger to themselves and others. John Cusak was one of them.

“Sometimes my head would fall down at a stop light or even driving down the highway in moderate traffic,” Cusak said.

When someone has sleep apnea, tissue in the neck actually blocks the flow of oxygen during sleep. When oxygen levels drop, carbon dioxide levels go up, and the person wakes up multiple times a night.

“Snoring is one of the main symptoms that one does see—loud snoring, disruptive snoring,” said Lisa Feierstein,a registered nurse with Active Healthcare, a Triangle-area provider.

“Before, I would even get up at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning and walk around the house,” Cusak said.

Men are more prone to sleep apnea than women. Being overweight cause sleep apnea, and the apnea can lead to even greater weight gain, stress, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

For Cusak, CPAP was the answer: continuous positive airway pressure. Feierstein fit him with a mask hooked to a C-PAP machine.

“A steady stream of air goes into the patient's throat to keep the airway open,” Feierstein explained.

It looks bulky, but Cusak said he was used to it within a few nights.

“I can't sleep now without it,” he said.

Now he gets deep, restful sleep with no snoring. He's more alert, more energetic, and the long commute to work is safer for him and others.

If you are obese, have a thick neck and snore loudly, you may want to ask your doctor about a referral to a sleep specialist.