DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: What can you tell me about sleep apnea? My husband, who's 60, has become such a terrible snorer he wakes himself up at night, and he keeps me up too.
DEAR SHELLY: If your husband is a loud snorer who wakes himself up during sleep, he probably needs to be tested for sleep apnea, a dangerous disorder that affects around 22 million Americans — and most don't even know it.
Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes a person to stop breathing during sleep, dozens and even hundreds of times during the night for up to 30 seconds at a time. Left untreated, it can cause extreme daytime sleepiness, as well as a host of serious health conditions like high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, diabetes, depression and gastroesophageal reflux disease. In fact, it's estimated that every year, around 38,000 Americans die in their sleep from a heart attack or stroke because of sleep apnea.
But the good news is that sleep apnea is very treatable and most insurance companies, including Medicare, cover it.
Who has it?
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central and mixed. Of the three, obstructive sleep apnea is by far the most common, and occurs when the throat muscles relax during sleep blocking the airway. While anyone can have it, sleep apnea is most common in people who are overweight, male, middle-aged and older. For women, the risk rises after menopause.
The symptoms include loud snoring (however not everyone who snores has apnea), long pauses of breathing, gasping or choking during sleep and daytime drowsiness. But because most of these symptoms happen during sleep, most people don't recognize them. It's usually the person they're sleeping with who notices it.
To help you get a handle on your husband's problem, the American Sleep Apnea Association has several quick diagnostic tests he can take at sleepapnea.org — click on “diagnosis and treatment.” If you suspect a problem after taking these tests, he should try some self-help measures, including: