How to Stop a Snoring Man
Half of adult men snore. Here are the common causes and cures.
But just because it's not noticed doesn't mean apnea isn't a problem. Hypertension and diabetes have been linked to sleep apnea. Apnea symptoms can include headaches and sleepiness throughout the day, and diminished alertness on the job. The Institute of Medicine estimated last year that undiagnosed sleep disorders cause 100,000 traffic accidents each year.
Equally serious is the damage that sleep apnea does to your heart, arteries and metabolism. Strictly speaking, it isn't the oxygen depletion that does the most damage. When the snorer briefly awakens and breaths, oxygen-depleted tissues fill with oxygen. The pattern of depletion and re-oxygenation stimulates the nervous system and releases chemicals that can damage tissue and leave plaques in the blood vessels.
Not everyone who snores is apneic, says Strollo, who is also the chief of the sleep medicine laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh. But there's a continuum between snoring and apnea, and if you snore for enough years, you can become apneic. Sleep specialists define apnea by the number of times a person wakes per hour -- five is often the number given -- but also by the degree of daytime sleepiness.
Although good sleep is probably as important as good diet and exercise to overall health, it's a latecomer to medicine. In 1956, C.S. Burwell, MD, characterized sleep apnea as the "Pickwickian Syndrome" in honor of Joe, the Fat Boy, a character in Dickens's Pickwick Papers who "goes on errands fast asleep, and snores as he waits at table."
Doctors didn't get into the business of diagnosing the condition until the 1970s. Even now, only about 10% of primary physicians ask questions about sleep, and as a result, an estimated 90% of sleep apnea goes undiagnosed and untreated.
The typical sleep apnea patient is an overweight, middle-aged man. Among men with a more healthy physique, sleep apnea seems to occur disproportionately in people of Asian descent, possibly because of the shape of their faces, according to Collop.
Luckily, there is an effective therapy for sleep apnea. Unluckily, it's a rather ungainly apparatus that makes the wearer look like a brain-damaged hospital patient. It's called CPAP, for continuous positive airway pressure, and it consists of an air hose attached to a mask that's fastened around the head and blows air through the nose.