Sleep apnea can keep you from getting a restful night's sleep. What happens is that you stop breathing (for anywhere from 10 seconds to more than a minute), then emit a choking, explosive sound as you struggle to recover—a pattern that may be repeated hundreds of times a night. Besides causing fatigue, daytime drowsiness and headaches, sleep apnea has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, hypertension, diabetes and depression.
If you think you have sleep apnea, it makes sense to get help. Being overweight is not only a risk factor for sleep apnea, but also makes it more likely that you'll develop medical problems as a result. Sleeping pills of all kinds may also promote sleep apnea. Your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist or to a sleep disorders center, the most reliable place to have sleep apnea diagnosed.
Fortunately, there are effective treatments for sleep apnea, including practical steps like losing weight and limiting alcohol. Or you may be fitted for an air pump, called CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), which is attached to a mask or nasal tube and can maintain a reliable flow of air while you sleep. Custom-made mouth devices that pull the tongue and jaw forward may also help.
Sleep disorders centers, usually attached to hospitals, can be found in most states in developed countries. Physicians and technicians in these centers have the training and equipment to diagnose a wide range of sleep problems, including sleep apnea. You may be required to stay overnight so that your sleep patterns can be observed and recorded. Alternatively, you may be able to perform sleep apnea testing at home, after being evaluated by a doctor who is board-certified in sleep medicine. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine accredits centers; its website can help you locate the nearest accredited center