Apnea Sufferers Hope for Pleasant Dreams

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The death of NFL legend Reggie White at just 43-years-old has brought sleep apnea to the forefront. It's a disorder that the St. Joseph Center for Sleep Medicine finds in about 80 percent of the people they test. It's characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep.

"Worst case scenario, if you have sleep apnea and it's not treated and it goes long enough, those apneas are going to start getting longer and longer," according to Lisa Bond, who heads up the Sleep Center. "And what may happen eventually is you'll stop and not restart."

"I used to wake up in the morning really refreshed, and I got to the point where I would wake up in the morning and I was still tired," said Ken Kunz, who came to the Sleep Center Monday to schedule a testing time. "Also, I'd wake up a lot in the middle of the night because my wife's poking me telling me to roll over and quit snoring."

A loved-one's needling is how many people end up at the Sleep Center, where four beds and private rooms are set aside to monitor sleeping patterns. Usually, with a one night stay and about 30 sensors placed on your body, doctors can tell everything from your brain waves to your leg movements while you're asleep, all in an effort to diagnose this very common, yet very dangerous disorder.

Although some thinner people do suffer from apnea, those most commonly diagnosed are overweight with short, thick necks. For males, Bond says a thick neck measures more than 17 inches around, while for women, it's around 16 inches. Feeling tired during the day, depression and hypertension are among the symptoms, but the biggest one is the loudest.

"The most common symptom is loud snoring followed by a pause or period of quiet, and then another gasping or loud snorting sound the patient makes," said Bond. "That pause is when they're not able to breath or they're struggling to breath.

"It took this thing with Reggie White for people to start paying attention and go, 'Whoa, maybe this is serious,'" Bond continued. "Snoring can be very serious."

"I do a lot of driving," said Kunz, "and start catching myself getting sleepy in the afternoon while I'm driving. That's not safe."

With the proper treatment, a long-time sufferer can sleep soundly. If you're diagnosed with sleep apnea, one treatment is a device called a CPAP, which a patient wears to provide more oxygen flow. If you're overweight and a sufferer, doctors say losing those extra pounds could cure the problem.

"The problem is that airway in the throat area is collapsing and it can't get opened back up," explained Bond. "The extra weight pushing down makes that worse."