Know the dangers of sleep apnea


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Even though you do all the right things to get a good night’s rest, do you still feel like you haven’t slept a wink come morning?

It may not be the environment that’s causing your tiredness but something more serious.

“During sleep, we have restored functions in terms of our muscles, in terms of our cardiovascular system getting a rest, and in terms of our brain consolidating memories, enhancing knowledge, stabilization of mood,” said Dr. Francis Janton of PinnacleHealth’s Neurology and Sleep Medicine.

For some, getting the seven to eight recommended hours isn’t possible for physical reasons.

“Well, the snoring was terrible. I mean, that would keep you up,” Linda Puceta of Halifax said of her husband Don.

Puceta has had plenty of sleepless nights.

“We could hear him in every room of the house and our younger son lived here and he could hear him downstairs in his bedroom,” Puceta said.

The snoring sent Don to PinnacleHealth Sleep Center to check for sleep apnea, a common disorder.

“Apnea means not to breathe, and obstructive sleep apnea refers to the fact that it’s an obstruction in the upper airway,” Janton said.

Janton says apnea significantly raises the risk of dying from cardiac disease or stroke. It’s estimated 22 million Americans live with it, and a large number of cases go undiagnosed.

There are ways to pinpoint apnea. One, a two-day take home sleep monitoring machine you pick up, hook up, and then drop off. The recorded results are read at the lab.

But when there are more existing serious health issues, like heart problems or narcolepsy, it’s an overnight stay in the sleep lab.

“We are testing for, problems are increasing, and it increases with age, the risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea are weight gain but mostly just age, certain cranial features predisposed to obstructive sleep apnea,” Janton said.

Don required an overnight stay. After he was connected to wires that transmit everything from brain waves to breathing, it’s lights out. As time ticks away, Don is a little restless before hitting the stages of sleep. Days later, the results are in.

While it’s normal to stop breathing for two or three short times per hour, Don’s results showed multiple stoppages.

“They said I was stopping 46 times an hour,” Don said.

“That’s very alarming, so I would shake him at times and say, ‘hey, you’re not breathing’,” Linda said.

Don now uses a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP machine that keeps air flowing into him and his airway open. It is making a big difference.

“His whole demeanor has changed because he’s getting sleep. He’s not grouchy or irritable. He’s rested and even his color – his coloring is even different,” Linda said.

Sleep apnea can be life threatening. Sometimes surgery is needed if a CPAP machine can not get the job done.

Apnea can strike at any age from infancy to adulthood. If you or a loved one are a heavy snorer and go long periods of time without breathing, contact your doctor.

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