Sleep apnea can be addressed with oral devices and surgery, but continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is usually the first medical treatment used. It involves wearing a mask or special mouthpiece while sleeping; a blower gently forces air through the nasal passages. If the snorer can tolerate sleeping with the apparatus, CPAP is highly effective. Because apnea is a medical condition, most insurers will pay the estimated $400 to $1,200 cost for CPAP.
Fortunately, I haven't yet had to sleep with a masked man. My husband's snoring has improved over the years without such dramatic measures. He stopped smoking and lost some weight. After he drinks red wine, he sleeps in another room. And I do have my own secret weapon: a little white-noise machine. When the snoring starts, I just submerge myself in the soothing sounds of a waterfall.
Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but almost no one has sleep apnea without loud snoring. Data from the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study suggests that 12 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening condition that temporarily cuts off respiration. How do you tell the difference between benign snoring and apnea? Wake up and listen! If your partner snores, watch to see if he actually stops breathing, says Ron Kuppersmith, M.D., a surgeon at Seattle's Virginia Mason Medical Center. If he's totally quiet and the chest is not moving, count the seconds.
The next morning, most people with sleep apnea can recall hearing themselves snore. Some feel short of breath for a brief period. Here are the symptoms:
- Chronic, loud snoring
- Gasping or choking episodes during sleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Car- or work-related accidents due to fatigue
If you suspect that your mate is suffering from sleep apnea, have him see his primary physician, who may refer him to a sleep specialist.
For more information, contact: American Sleep Apnea Association, 1424 K St. NW, Suite 302, Washington, DC 20005; (202) 293-3650; sleepapnea.org or The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, One Westbrook Corporate Center, Ste. 920, Westchester, IL 60154; 708-492-0930; aasmnet.org.