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Apnea – A chronic sleep problem

The article discusses the condition of apnea patient, William Chapman. It goes on to examine how a chronic apnea sufferer could get relief from modern treatment methods.

A sleep lab patient, Pasadena resident William H. Chapman, was tested after his wife wrote his doctor to express concern about his restless sleep. Chapman, 61, has been a heavy snorer for decades.

"The descriptions of my snoring went from something like a growling bear to a machine that was going to knock down the house," he said. When he and his son went camping in southern Utah last year, his son asked him to sleep in the truck.

He felt bone-tired during the day, what he describes as "30 years struggling against this weariness that you feel perpetually. No alertness. No get-up-and-go."

Finally, Chapman spent a night at Torrance Memorial, plugged into the polysomnograph. The test results were startling: He was holding his breath as many as 57 times an hour, each time for 10 to 40 seconds. He would wake repeatedly as he held his breath, meaning that he unknowingly was sleeping only four or five hours a night.

A federal report concluded that while 60 million Americans suffer from apnea, narcolepsy and other chronic sleep problems, the majority are undiagnosed and untreated. Despite its pervasiveness and impact upon the society, sleep-related problems are not recognized as a public health issue.

The most common and severe form, called obstructive sleep apnea, features extremely loud snoring interrupted by pauses and gasps. Breathing stops for 10 seconds or longer, sometimes dozens or even hundreds of times each night.

Most frequently, the airway becomes blocked during sleep due to excessive relaxation of throat muscles. In children, sleep apnea is often the result of enlarged tonsils and adenoids.

People with sleep apnea may show signs of anxiety, depression, irritability, forgetfulness and fatigue during the day. Recent studies have found that sleep apnea sufferers have two to five times as many automobile accidents as people in the general population.

Treatment includes weight reduction (most people with severe sleep apnea are overweight); avoiding alcohol within two hours of bedtime and sleeping drugs; surgery to remove excess tissue at the back of the throat or enlarged tonsils and adenoids; use of a special mask that improves flow of air through nasal passages.

Undergoing surgery or sleeping with a mask clamped to your face may seem like extreme measures just to silence snoring. But if you have sleep apnea, those treatments could save your life.

Next: Apnea often strikes premature babies