Stressed and sleepless, many Americans spend their nights tossing and turning in the dark. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a third of adults in the United States sleep less than 6.5 hours per night—about two hours less than their grandparents slept. While most people experience occasional insomnia, nearly 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders that cost employers an estimated $18 billion annually in lost productivity. Fatigue is a factor in at least 100,000 car crashes and 1,500 deaths each year. A potentially deadly condition called sleep apnea afflicts an estimated 20 million Americans.
Natalya Thorevska, M.D.
“Patients with obstructive sleep apnea often complain of daytime
sleepiness or difficulty remaining asleep,” says Natalya Thorevska,
M.D., director of the Sleep Disorder Center at Hartford Hospital.
“Obstructive apneas cause fragmented sleep and lowered levels of oxygen
in the blood. Symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, breath
holding, morning headaches and dry mouth and poorly controlled high
Sleep apnea also is associated with cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure, heart attack, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias and stroke. Most sufferers are unaware that their restless nights are filled with the noisy signals of a sleep disorder—snoring, choking or gasping—that they forget completely on awakening.
Obstructive sleep apnea can result when excess weight or narrowed airways cause the muscles of the throat to droop or collapse, blocking the flow of air. When they can’t exhale, people with obstructive sleep apnea stop breathing intermittently.
While less severe sleep apnea symptoms may respond to weight loss or simply sleeping on the side, alcohol or sleeping pills can depress breathing and worsen disturbed slumber. Before menopause, women have a lower risk than men of developing sleep apnea, but once estrogen levels drop after menopause, women lose their hormonal advantage.
Left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can lead to serious health consequences, including fatigue-related accidents, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Untreated sleep apnea has been shown to raise the risk of death from motor vehicle accidents and cardiovascular disease. Not only do sleepless people crash their cars, but researchers have also linked sleep apnea with depression, irritability, forgetfulness and sexual dysfunction