Snoring is caused by the vibration of excess floppy tissue in the nose and back of the throat, Fry says. The condition results in a decrease of oxygen in the bloodstream, which puts additional stress on the heart, blood vessels, and brain.
Often, it's wives who send their husbands to the doctor after they notice their husbands have stopped breathing. "That's very alarming to a bed partner," Fry says. The CPAP device generally solves the breathing problems by blowing a regular stream of air through the nose and throat, forcing any floppy tissues to stay open. The result: normal breathing and a snore-free night.
Wayne Crawford's snoring was so bad, it was keeping both him and his wife awake at night. Crawford, 43, is a computer systems programmer for the city of Philadelphia. He ran track and played football back in high school, and was a member of a championship rough-touch football team in his 20s. But then came middle age. Crawford was gaining weight and feeling so tired, he couldn't even ride his bike any more.
He found the CPAP device "a little claustrophobic at first. It looks like elephantiasis," he says. When he wears it, his kids tell him, "Daddy, you've got your trunk on."
But Crawford's wife doesn't mind the humming sound the machine makes. "It's somewhat soothing as opposed to the sound of my snoring," Crawford says.
Thanks to regular sleep, Crawford is no longer in what he describes as "a constant state of lethargy." He's also working out regularly at a gym.
Fry began studying sleep disorders when she was a resident at the Neurological Institute of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in the late 1970s. Since 1981, Fry has been the director of the Center for Sleep Medicine (formerly the Sleep Disorder Center) at the Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Among the other sleep disorders Fry treats is narcolepsy, a neurological disorder that can cause people to fall asleep without warning at embarrassing or even dangerous moments. Sherry Johnson is a narcoleptic who used to fall asleep while she was cashing checks as a bank teller. "I would just sort of nod off and not even know I was doing it," says Johnson, 57, of Cherry Hill, N.J. She'd come to a few seconds later without knowing whether she had handed any cash back to the customer. "It was a creepy thing for me," she says.