Jan. 15, 2001 -- Stephen Oliphant hit the record button on the tape recorder just before he fell asleep. He was determined to prove to his wife that his snoring wasn't that bad.
But when he woke up the next morning and hit the play button, he was astonished. "It sounded like a wounded animal," he says. Oliphant resolved to see a doctor about his snoring.
So last fall, Oliphant, a 39-year-old bank vice president, visited the Center for Sleep Medicine in Lafayette Hill, Pa. He put on his pajamas and let a technician hook up about 20 electrodes and sensors to his head, face, and body, to measure brain waves, respiration, ECG, oxygen levels in the blood, and eye and leg movements.
Days later, June M. Fry, MD, looked over his charts and told him he had obstructive sleep apnea, a condition caused by a blockage of the breathing passages. No wonder Oliphant felt tired during the day. The tests showed Oliphant's sleep was interrupted an average of 22 times an hour because he wasn't getting enough oxygen.
Fry fitted Oliphant with a nasal CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device, a breathing machine that looks like a scuba diving mask attached to a small canister vacuum cleaner. "It takes a little getting used to," says Oliphant, who uses it every night. But "I couldn't be happier, and neither could my wife." Oliphant is now sleeping through the night. "I just have so much more energy," he says.
He's one of thousands of men -- and women -- across the country who are turning to doctors to end their snoring. Many are sent by their spouses. Fry estimates that 80% of her patients are being treated for obstructive sleep apnea, which she says affects more than two million Americans. People with the condition often wake up snorting, gasping, or choking. While the CPAP device is the most common treatment, others include laser procedures, oxygen therapy, and dental devices.
In a study published in the October 1999 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers measured the effect of CPAP devices on 10 men with snoring and sleep apnea, and also the effect of any improvement on their spouses. Indeed, the devices were effective at eliminating the husbands' snoring and sleep apnea, and this resulted in their spouses getting a better night's sleep, even if they previously had been habitually exposed to the distractions.