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Brain & Spine Health | Family Health | Men’s Health | Women’s Health
Woman trying to sleep

5 Surprising Facts About Sleep Apnea

For one, it affects more than just overweight men

Tossing, turning, snoring and waking up in a fog might mean more than just a bad night’s sleep, especially if they happen on a regular basis.

For many, sleep apnea is to blame for these symptoms. With sleep apnea, your breathing is disrupted while you are asleep. The results range from short-term sleepiness to long-term risks for diseases. You’d be surprised by how common this condition is — and how it can affect you.

1. Many people have sleep apnea but don’t know it

Sleep apnea is more common than you think because it often goes undiagnosed, says Nancy Foldvary-Schaefer, DO, MS, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Center. That’s particularly true for the most common form, obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when your airway gets blocked or constricted while you sleep. Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says at least 9 percent of women and 24 percent of men are affected, and those figures are based on older studies done when obesity rates were not as high as they are today. But out of all those people getting unsatisfying sleep, as many as 80 percent go undiagnosed.

2. It’s not just for overweight men who snore

The stereotype of a sleep apnea patient is an overweight or obese man who snores. While there’s some truth there — obesity is a major risk factor, and it does affect more men in general — the stereotype falls apart with age. “Most people don’t know this,” Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says, “but after menopausal age, women are as likely to be affected as men.”

The stereotype of a sleep apnea patient is an overweight or obese man who snores. While there’s some truth there, the stereotype falls apart with age.

3. It may seem like depression, fatigue or something else

Why is sleep apnea so often overlooked? Because its symptoms are so broad. Beyond sleep disruptions and other bedtime symptoms, you may also have depression, fatigue, trouble concentrating, a dry mouth and sore throat, or any number of other symptoms.

“We have patients diagnosed with depression, but something is just not quite right,” Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says, as an example. “They don’t respond to treatment for depression, but the depression improves when sleep apnea is diagnosed and treated.”

4. Sleep apnea can lead to serious complications

Sleep apnea disrupts more than just your good night’s sleep and hard day’s work. Over time, it’s a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, diabetes and other serious conditions. If you have symptoms — or a spouse or partner notices that you repeatedly stop breathing at night — ask your doctor about having an overnight sleep study. Such studies are the only way to accurately diagnose sleep apnea, especially since so many symptoms overlap with other conditions.

5. You can do something about it

There are ways to deal with sleep apnea. Weight loss can help, since obesity is a risk factor. So can avoiding alcohol and other sedatives and making a change in sleep habits. “For some people, simply avoiding sleeping on the back makes a difference,” Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says.

But simple changes won’t work for many people, which is why PAP (positive airway pressure) therapy — a mask that promotes airflow during sleep — is such a popular treatment. If your doctor diagnoses sleep apnea and prescribes PAP therapy, be prepared to commit to the treatment.

“People need to use it every night to get the benefit from it,” Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says. “It’s not a quick fix; it’s a lifestyle change.”

Tags: obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, sleep, sleep apnea, sleep disorders
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  • julieg

    If you don’t have health insurance are there low cost options for a sleep study if you suspect you have sleep apnea?

    • Pro-Dr

      Basically snoring is already sufficient to put you on the list of suspected OSA. Plus, if you have been chronically fatigue and unable to gain energy after taking short nap, those could be counted toward OSA. Treatment wise, like the article said, weight loss, change of sleep habit, or even sleep with extension of neck or on the side could help improve OSA.

    • MollyB

      I did an at home study called SNAP. Have yourdoctor check into it.

    • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

      A new one- there’s a $199 watch from Intel called the Basis watch that can give you a darn good idea. If you have 20 or more interruptions in a night, you may have sleep apnea.

  • John Stith

    I picked up a C-PAP machine a few years ago and there were some pleasant side effects. I can’t sleep w/o it and it improved my allergies while I sleep.

  • Gerald

    I have been using a C-PAP for 14 years now and it really helps. I will not sleep without it.

    • Lynn

      I have been trying to use mine for 11 years and still can’t use it!

      • pjhowell

        My son died from sleep apnea complications and did not use a C-Pap which may have saved his life.

      • Moire2

        try an oral appliance. google “i hate cpap”. there are lots of options.

      • Sr Citizen

        I had to switch to an auto titrating PAP machine. This means the pressure varies all night right along with your breathing changes. I was not able to use a CPAP for longer than an hour, two at the most. I have been using the Auto PAP for 12 years now. Also, I use a nasal prong type of mask. The pressure of the face mask made me lose molars. I tried those mouth appliances while my Apnea was still mild. They just damaged my teeth and did no good at all. The Sleep Apnea gave me Pulmonary Hypertension, Heart Failure and a few other things. USE YOUR MACHINE

  • Boudeccea

    Does snoring always mean sleep apnea though? My husband snores but I do not notice his breathing being impaired. The doctor seems too willing to push it off on apnea.

    • Sr Citizen

      Get the sleep study and then you will know for sure.

  • Stacey

    I was told that everyone who snore do not have sleep apnea and everyone with sleep apnea don’t snore…..buy I’m having a hard time using my machine after three years,I feel like I’m suffocating with the face mask.

    • Moire2

      try an oral appliance. google “i hate cpap” there are alternatives.

      • AllenBryan

        Thanks for the link to advertising.

      • amanda

        Aye, an oral appliance is only good for those who have veryild sleep apnea. Look into adjusting your humidifier settings on your machince first. It takes awhile to get used to the mask but i sometimes tell people to wear the mask while doing cleaning in your house, mot attached to the machine. Just to getuse to it on your face

    • Garry

      Time for a new sleep test and ADJUSTING the changes in YOUR patterns

    • debra

      it was hard at first for me with the full mask but got used to it after about a month i gave been useing itt going on 3 years best thing that i could have done my hubby said i was quiting breathing at night before i started useing my cpap machine

    • Jennifer

      I felt as though I was suffocating with my face mask as well, my pulmonologist ordered another study for me since it had been four years since my last. the new study gave me a new pressure setting, new machine, new mask. And this time around everything works so much better. My advice is to make an appointment with your doctor and explain how you feel with the mask. They may have a solution for you. :)

    • Glenda Nell Rogers Latner

      I did the same thing after a. year

    • bubba

      Persistence is the key. Wear it EVERY night. Start out just wearing it for an hour and slowly increase your time. Also, wear it while you watch TV to acclimate to the pressure and mask. It may be difficult but it is not impossible to be compliant.

    • Michael Thorp

      Try the nasal pillows. I have been using those for 14 of my 15 yrs on a CPAP. I Love my machine. I have never gone a night without it. When we lost power, I grabbed my 12 v battery and had it up and running (I bought one that also runs on 12v) in 5 minutes and went back to sleep.

    • Debra Darbone Mendoza

      i was like that for about a month but i have it bad i just pray to god and to make sure i got use to it and i have used my machine 3 y now i go camping with it to

    • blueheaven

      You may need to try a different type of “mask” Maybe a nasal cannula type. It doesn’t feel as restrictive. There are many different types. If changing your “mask” doesn’t help, you may need to have your machine checked to make sure you are getting the prescribed pressure. I have snored all of my life, even when I was skinny. I developed sleep apnea when I got older so who ever told you that people who snore don’t have sleep apnea is wrong!!!

      • Lydia

        I was going to suggest that. Nasal “pillows” are less restrictive. New equipment is constantly being designed. Your pulmonologist and medical equipment supplier can assist you.

    • Edward Grandi

      Stacey, you should follow up with the doctor that prescribed the therapy. The pressure setting needed for therapy to be effective changes over time.

    • Michael Wise

      Ask your doctor about using Nose Pillows. A thousand times better than a mask. It’s almost like wearing a nose plug when you go swimming.

  • pjhowell

    My thirty year old son died from sleep apnea complications. People need to take this serious. A child can even have sleep apnea.

  • bethmoore

    Maybe that’s why I sleep with a fan running.

  • sher7804

    Hi does sleep apnea cause seizures? Also what is narcolepsy?

  • Mary

    My friend has it and it puts him in AFIB

  • Dk

    My wife and I had a sleep study and we have sleep apnea and as result we got the machines and now sleep like babies. We take them on vacations, so they now are a part of our lives!!

  • Sally Davidson

    I was diagnosed after having shoulder surgery and had to lay flat on my back for 10 weeks while sleeping. I tried the CPAP and had a hard time with the claustrophobia. I googled sleep apnea exercises. They helped a lot and my neck is firmer to boot! I find that I can’t sleep on my back. If I sleep on my side – it’s OK! Good luck to all!

  • amanda

    I am a sleep tech, for the one who kreps suggesting an oral appliance it is only for those who have mild sleep apnea. All it does is pull your jaw a half inch forward. While that may be good for a few people it is not good for the majority. If you currently use a CPAP machine and feel “suffocated” it may be because of your heated humidifier. Play with the heat to adjust for the right setting for you, this may take a couple of nights to get right and can change with the seasons. If you dont have insurance try looking for a lab that will work with you on payments or courtousy. Also i know in texas there is a government funded program called DARS. Look into them. Sleep apnea is very dangerous if left untreated. Please look into help if you think you may have it.

  • Hurricane Bob

    Can you have a serious vascular operation if you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea?

  • Lisa Helt

    I had a dental device molded to fit my mouth at CCF dental, they closed and I never got it, cannot sleep with cpap!

  • Cynthia Ortiz

    I really love the CPAP but it is wrecking havoc on my face! I am wondering if the new thing that just came out (something you put in your mouth) really works?

    • Michelle D

      Try a different style of mask. They do make ones that don’t leave marks on the face.

  • Cynthia Ortiz

    I have been using the CPAP machine for 2 years now and can’t sleep without it! It even helps with my allergies. However, it is really messing up my face! It pulls the skin and leaves marks. (I am older!)

    • Marsha Johnson

      Loosen the headgear straps!.. you will still have some facial marks, but after a few minutes they’ll disapear. Hope this helps.

  • RebaJo

    I recently saw something about a new treatment using a chip or something?? Is this available now or still in research? If still being researched, do they need a guinea pig? I have a terrible time with the mask.

  • Bunny1948

    I don’t sleep any longer now with the cpap than I did before getting it. I have a chin strap because they said I slept wiyh my mouth open during the study. The chin strap makes my face and jaw sore. My bottom teeth “dig” into the upper part of my mouth making my lip sore as well. I begin the night with tjr machine but sometimes it gets so uncomfortable that I take it off to get some sleep. Some days everything is so sore that it hurts when I chew. I called the company and they are supposed to bring me a full facial mask to see if that will remedy my situation . If that does not let me sleep longer what should I do?

  • K Saghy

    I have had sleep apnea since in my thirties I am female and not overweight. My daughter who is 24 and thin was diagnosed at 17. My sister also had it but did not wear her CPAP. She suffered a retinal stroke due to her sleep apnea and now has less than 30% vision in that eye. PLEASE get tested, and keep trying different masks until you find the one right for you. It makes a HUGE difference in your energy, health and mood. Just keep trying please. I now can not sleep without my therapy.

  • http://www.twitter.com/shannon_s_jones Shannon Gratitude Guy Jones

    Two problems for me: 1) no matter the settings my nasal mask aka cannula on steroids made my nose run whereas it would eventually be glued to my nose. Full masks make me cough in my sleep and we couldn’t figure out why. 2) the hose would get caught on my blanket pulling my mask off my face. So, between the two problems I was awake more than asleep, and my doctor advises me against an appliance. I’d rather get sleep even if it’s a not the most restful than get woke up ten times a night.

  • Rose

    It took me 5 months to get used to the machine. I was worried that my cat would not sleep on my pillow with me as he has been doing for many years. Maybe silly but was a big issue with me. Well my cat and me did get used to it and he does sleep on my pillow. Also I have been reading more and more about sleep apnea and am now very well aware of the dangers if I do NOT heed the warnings.

  • Sheila Steenbergen

    I always sleep with my cpap. It is very soothing for me, as soon as I put it on, I am ready for sleep. I have two machines so that one is always in my car in case I have to stay somewhere other than home. I have been using a nasal mask and a cpap for 10 years. I had a couple of nights that I had a few minutes that I felt I was suffocating, but it passed and no more struggles.

  • Cathy Pabst

    I have severe sleep apnea, but my mask leaks all the time; it doesn’t matter if it is a brand new mask like I’m wearing now or an older one. I feel like I still don’t get sleep due to air leaking all the time. It is so frustrating. What can I do? I tried nasal prongs but they really made my nose very sore and I couldn’t stand it. With the mask I still breathe through my mouth and wake up at times with my mouth so dry it feels like it could crack! I have the mist turned up to 4 all the time as well. Any suggestions?

    • Debra Darbone Mendoza

      i have temp for the machine set at 0 in the summer time and about 2 to 3 in the winter time if you have yours set at 4 its making your mouth to dry you have a full mask or the bother ones i have the full mask sometimes my leaks to but i make sure its done really good around my head i keep cinn altriods by my bed and when my throqt is dry i suck on one in the morning hope this helps

      • Cathy Pabst

        Debra, mine is a mist that I set at 4 every night. They told me to do this to keep moisture in my mouth. Thanks for the thought on the altoids too!

    • Marsha Johnson

      Your mask is leaking because you don’t have it on correctly! I highly suggest you go to your health doctor who supplied you with it and have them physically show you how to correctly apply it. Believe me once you do this and you become adjusted to it, you will have the best sleep Ever!!!

      • Cathy Pabst

        Marsa thank you so much for your advice, but I do wear the mask correctly and they have shown me how to do this, but it still leaks around the bridge of my nose. I have had it for three years now and I can’t sleep without it, but the leaking often wakes me up at night; of course, I toss and turn in my sleep; always have and I’m sure that does not help. I have severe osteoarthritis and I change position a lot during the night.

    • msgadget6905

      My full face mask leaked, too. My RT son asked how I cleaned the mask. I’M SUPPOSED TO CLEAN IT? Yes, he said, every morning. I use the Epielle makeup remover cloths from Big Lots. They work great. Clean outside and inside the mask. If leaking is still a problem, try sleeping without a pillow. That helps me. Also, your Dr. might have to back down the pressure a little. I have the same mouth problem as you. I haven’t found a remedy for it yet. My allergist says he puts Tums in his cheeks every night. They slowly dissolve during the night and keep his mouth a bit moist. It does work some.

      • Cathy Pabst

        Thank you msgadget6905. Great advice! I appreciate it! I will try those makeup remover cloths from Big Lots. Makes sense. I clean my machine, but not every morning.

  • Tokyotoker

    The PAP machine is pure torture. I have elected to live a shorter but action packed life.

  • Millie Rosado

    CPAP is horrible! Ahhhh I tried everything….simply horrible!

  • Cindy

    I have had sleep apnea for 15 years and was just diagnosed last October….I had heart issues, depression and many other issues. It took me 3 months to get fully use to the mask…I to felt like I was suffocating. Using a small fan behind my machine on my bed table directly on me on low helped BIG TIME….now I can’t sleep with out my mask….It’snot the most romantic device when you are single either but I rather be alive then dead…sleep apnea causes all kinds of problems left untreated, I’m a perfect example of that♥♥ Feel so much better when I wake up in the morning. I’m very bad I have a high number of 16 so that air is coming out full force when I reach my deep sleep….

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    What if sleep apnea causes obesity, instead of the other way around? Being too tired to exercise regularly, like I was, can lead to muscle atrophy and obesity.

  • nmoore

    I am small and thin but was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2007. For a couple of years I struggled with the C-Pap and they finally switched me to a Bi-Pap. What a difference. It’s been so much easier since then. I would wake up with air in my stomach when I used the C-Pap… very painful.

  • Lydia

    There are two types of sleep apnea. The most common is Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The other type, Central Sleep Apnea, happens when your brain does not send signals to your muscles that control breathing. There is simply no unconscious command to take a breath. This is highly dangerous. If you are having breathing problems during sleep, it is imperative to get it checked out by a competent pulmonologist and sleep study in order to have a proper diagnosis and the correct equipment and USE it. There are CPAP, Bi-PAP, and Variable machines and you need to know which is necessary for your problem. It will change your life and maybe even save it.

  • Patricia Earles

    Most insurance companies do not pay for the study and it is very expensive across the board.

    • msgadget6905

      Most insurance companies DO pay for the study. They also pay a big chunk of the expense for a CPAP machine.

  • dale

    Can sleep apnea cause an arrhythmia during sleep?

    • msgadget6905

      Most definitely!!

  • http://batman-news.com LisaC

    I have not used my CPAP in awhile because of the hose. Even though it is flexible, it still pulls. I have the full face mask and the nasal plugs. Not crazy about either of them.

  • Buttercup

    I wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding and the feeling that my airway did get closed off…with a headache…does this sound like sleep apnea?

    • msgadget6905

      Definitely!! Get tested.

  • K

    I have been tested twice. I do not have sleep apnea. It showed that although I get woke up 20+ times a night! it is from allergies and sinus’ . Nothing they can do for it. I am on all of the allergy meds I can take.