Sleep Apnea: Dangers beyond loss of sleep

Snoring is not a normal part of life. While not all snorers have sleep apnea, it is a common sign. If you believe you may be one of the 12 million people with sleep apnea it is time to see a doctor, and not just to get a better night’s rest.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that is caused when airways in the head don’t maintain proper width because they’re blocked by an obstruction. Apnea literally means “suspension of breathing” and when a person suffers from this condition they can stop breathing for ten to twenty seconds at a time.

This continuously interrupted sleep makes true restorative rest impossible. This translates to drowsiness during the day which can be very dangerous. A study from the University of British Colombia, Vancouver examined the blue-collar workforce and how sleep disorders contribute to work related incidents. The study reports that, “Individuals who tested positive for obstructive sleep apnea (the most common type) were nearly 2.5 times more likely to have an injury related to reduced vigilance, such as falls or motor vehicle accidents.”

In a Medpage Today article, M. Safwan Badr, MD, a past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and professor of medicine at Wayne State University, explained how sleep apnea increases chances of an accident among car drivers.

“We know that persons with obstructive sleep apnea are 7 to 8 times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident either because of sleepiness or loss of vigilance or they distract themselves to stay awake,” he said.

Older and overweight people are more at-risk for sleep apnea, and having relatives that suffer from sleep apnea further increases the chance.

Some cases can be easily remedied by things like sleeping on your side, nasal congestion spray and not drinking alcohol. More serious conditions may require the use of machines to help clear obstructions at night, dental devices or even surgery.

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