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Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Updated on March 16, 2014

According to the National Institute of Health, sleep apnea affects more than 12 million Americans. Many are not even aware they have it until the symptoms cause them problems with work or driving. Spouses of those suffering from it often notice the early symptoms, but they often think a little snoring is nothing to worry about.

What is sleep apnea? Apnea is the Greek word for "without breath". There are three basic types of sleep apnea.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea-this is where the apnea is caused by a blockage or obstruction in the airway. It is usually the soft tissue in the back of the throat that collapses and then closes while the person is sleeping
  • Central sleep apnea- this is where, even though the airway may not be blocked, the brain still fails to signal the muscles to breath
  • Mixed-is simply a combination of the two types listed above.

Classic symptom of sleep apnea-extreme snoring
Classic symptom of sleep apnea-extreme snoring

Who is At Risk? What Are the Symptoms?

Older obese men have an increased risk, but as many as 40% with obstructive sleep apnea are not obese.

A large tongue, a narrow airway, nasal obstruction, or some shapes of jaw and palate, or those that have had dental extractions seem to have an increased risk. A larger neck or collar size is also strongly associated with obstructive sleep apnea.

The classic example of someone with obstructive sleep apnea starts off with episodes of heavy snoring that begin soon after falling asleep. The snoring often gets louder, followed by long silent periods where they are not breathing (apnea). Then suddenly a loud snort and gasp for air will seemingly snap the person back into repeating the same pattern all over again.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Adults:

  • Heavy snoring
  • Stops breathing while sleeping and suddenly snorts or gasps
  • Restless sleeping
  • Mouth breathing during sleeping
  • Dry mouth upon waking up
  • Excessively sleepy during the day
  • Morning headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Severe anxiety
  • Temperamental behavior
  • Poor job performance
  • Impotence
  • Short-term memory loss

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Children:

  • Snoring
  • Hyperactivity
  • Development delay
  • Poor concentration
  • Bed wetting
  • Nightmares and/or night terrors
  • Headaches
  • Restless sleeping
  • Obesity
  • Large tonsils
  • Noisy breather
  • Chronic runny nose
  • Frequent upper respiratory infections and ear aches

As you read the list of symptoms for the child you may have noticed similarities in this list and the symptoms of someone with ADD/ADHD. According to a study in 1997, 81% of snoring children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD could have the ADD/ADHD issues resolved if they simply addressed the snoring issue.

My Experience with Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea entered my world while married to my second husband. He had been living alone for the past 8-9 years so there was no one to tell him about his sleep habits. He also had gained a few pounds and stopped swimming regularly. It didn't take me long to realize something was not right. I noticed that when he slept his body contorted and his snoring was erratic. Sometimes I could see his chest heaving but I could hear nothing, then suddenly he'd jerk and make horrible noises. It really concerned me.

I also noticed that he would sometimes nod off during his awake hours, sometimes during his own sentences. He was a smoker and would often drop cigarettes. If he awakened again quickly, he'd realize it and pick it up. But sometimes the didn't. I didn't want him to drive. My husband would sometimes "sleep" for 8 hours, wake up and head to the kitchen only to fall asleep in the floor on the way there.

He had no recollection of these episodes and was somewhat in denial. He thought I was exaggerating. I had to finally resort to video taping him. He was shocked. He couldn't believe what he was seeing and hearing. He then realized too that we had to do something.

Startling Statistics You Cannot Ignore

  • When the person with sleep apnea is not breathing, the oxygen level in their blood falls. Oxygen-deprivation can cause pulmonary hypertension leading to right-sided heart failure.
  • People with sleep apnea have an 8 times greater chance of auto accident.
  • It's estimated that 40% of truck drivers have sleep apnea. Is this who we want driving the 18 wheelers on our highways? My guess is they go undetected since no one observes them sleeping to tell them.
  • People with sleep apnea are 23 times more likely to have a heart attack and twice a likely as a smoker!
  • Approximately 50% of the patients who are prescribed the CPAP machine (CPAP=Continuous Positive Air Pressure) actually wear it nightly.


Visiting the Doctor

With video footage in hand, we met with my family doctor. After describing what I had been witnessing with my husband, I showed him the video footage. He was fairly certain that my husband did indeed suffer from sleep apnea. He scheduled an appointment with a sleep clinic for a polysomnograph study. A polysomnograph is a test of sleep cycles and stages through the use of continuous recordings of brain waves, the electrical activity of muscles, eye movements, breathing rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, and heart rhythm and video taped and live observation of the person during their sleep.

At the sleep clinic he was required to make two visits where he would spend the entire night. He arrived around 8:30 pm on two consecutive Monday nights. The first time they hooked him up to dozens of electrodes to monitor his sleep patterns. He was videotaped and monitored on close circuit TV. He displayed so much distress in this first study they opted to try to hook him up to one of the sleep apnea machines just to help ensure he'd be ok. That normal doesn't happen until the second visit.

Between the first and second visit, a respiratory physician evaluates the readouts and makes recommendations for the type of equipment that would best suit his needs. They then try that method on the second visit.

On his second visit to the sleep clinic he was hooked up to all the monitoring equipment and they began to try various models and settings. Results indicated that my husband stopped breathing an average of 70 times an hour! That is more than once every single minute! It was determined that a CPAP machine with a full face mask was most appropriate for him. There are many different models that are designed for each type of situation. A prescription was written and we had to visit the local medical equipment store to be fitted.


Adjusting to Sleep with the CPAP

The machine/equipment for the treatment of sleep apnea can be intimidating. You look at this equipment and wonder how he'll ever sleep with it on and how will I be able to sleep next to him. The machine sets next to the bed and plugs in to the nearby wall socket.

In the beginning, we had to set his machine so that it ramped. Ramping simply means that the pressure he requires to keep his passages open properly was flowing through the tube in graduated segments over a period of 20 minutes allowing him time to fall asleep before the full pressure was flowing through the tub. When you first get the machine that flow of air seems quite powerful. I put the mask to my face and it seemed very strong to me. If it reached full flow before he was fully asleep he would rip the mask off. Many people I've talked to experience this. I believe this also contributes to so many failing to use their machine. It does take a little getting used to.

I would say it took my husband about 2 months of regular use to really get used to it. Now, after a year of constant use, he cannot imagine not having it. It has become a part of his sleep routine and sleeps soundly and quietly through the night.

Some people are concerned that the machine may be too noisy. If he has his mask adjusted properly, I do not hear a sound. However, if he turns over and allows his mask to lose it's seal around his mouth, I can hear the flow of air. The machine will also register a leak. The machine actually stores data about the length of time the machine is used, etc. This information can be downloaded by the doctor to determine how things are going.

Sleeping with the sleep apnea machine has made a tremendous difference in him. He is no longer sleepy or drowsy during the day. He has increased concentration and in a much better mood.

What You Can Do

Anytime you are around others sleeping, take note of anyone displaying any of the symptoms listed above. Don't worry about hurting their feelings, you need to tell them. Don't ignore the symptoms and tell yourself it's nothing to worry about. It is something to worry about. The person doesn't know they're doing it. They have to rely on someone else to tell them. If they deny it, record them. Be gentle when talking about it with them, but express your concern. Show them this hub.

If you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself, or if someone has told you that you display some of these symptoms, you owe it to yourself to have it checked out.

The dangers of undiagnosed sleep apnea are too great to ignore.


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    • U Neek profile image

      U Neek 8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Two years and thousands of dollars later, my OSA is not responding to CPAP. I guess I'll die young along the more than 50% of OSA patients who do not get relief with CPAP. There has to be a better solution.

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 8 years ago from Central Texas

      Thank you Dink96! Thanks for the info, I'll check it out!

    • Dink96 profile image

      Dink96 8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      Kudos for writing an extremely well-researched hub. Sleep apnea is a very serious matter and although it's not the sexiest sleeping arrangement, the alternative would be pretty grim. With ongoing research, however, new modalities are being presented all the time. There's a new one out that's really something. See

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 8 years ago from Central Texas

      Thanks for the info and the link Mireille!

    • Mireille G profile image

      Mireille G 8 years ago from Kansas

      I looked at this hub because I have been helping a friend of mine with his site, and I came to know more about sleep apnea than I did since I have never had anyone in my household affect by it.

      One thing I want to add to that effect, is that my friend is a sleep apnea specialist of sorts but he is not a regular doctor, he is a dentist. He has had very good success with helping people suffering from sleep apnea.

      I was surprised because I would not have thought that it was a dentist specialty.

      If you would like to see the what and who you could visit his site at

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 8 years ago from Central Texas

      Time for a separate room then. Lots of people do it. Mistyhorizon even wrote a hub about it.

    • Laughing Mom profile image

      Laughing Mom 8 years ago

      But you have to consider I don't sleep well to start with, so the slightest noise and I'm up and annoyed.

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 8 years ago from Central Texas

      His machine is loud? Ours isn't. The only time I hear anything is if his mask gets off a bit and I can hear escaping a leaky tire.

    • Laughing Mom profile image

      Laughing Mom 8 years ago

      My husband has the kind where your brain just forgets to breathe, or whatever. I considered not telling him, but in the end, the snoring was keeping me awake at night. Now it's that machine!!!!

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 8 years ago from Central Texas

      Good luck with that, funnebone. Don't wait if at all possible. All the medical supplies stores should carry them.

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 8 years ago from Central Texas

      Thank you, funnebone. It's a subject I knew virtually little about two years ago. But, have learned a lot that needed to be shared on the subject.

    • funnebone profile image

      funnebone 8 years ago from Philadelphia Pa

      Ative article....sorry..dozed off. I have been looking for a CPAP machine...I suffer greatly from several sleep issues. Really a great hub.

    • funnebone profile image

      funnebone 8 years ago from Philadelphia Pa

      A finely written and inform,,,,,,,,,,,,

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 8 years ago from Central Texas

      Thanks Mistyhorizon & Sixtyorso.....yes, my husband takes it everywhere with him as well. It's really scary knowing so many people just dismiss it as simple snoring and perhaps sometimes that's all it is. But, it's worth checking into if it's frequent, loud and interupted with any silences and sudden gasps.

    • sixtyorso profile image

      Clive Fagan 8 years ago from South Africa

      Sleep Apnea is a very real serious problem. I'm pleased you shared this with us.

      @Misty nice to see you out and about again.

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      Our friend does have the equipment and takes it everywhere with him, even on holiday etc. He can't even risk sitting in front of the TV of an evening without putting it on, just in case he dozes off. Scary stuff!

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 8 years ago from Central Texas

      That's exactly right, AEvans. Show him this article. It's very important. He would feel sooooo much better if he would wear it. My husband is a different person.

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 8 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      My brother-in-law has sleep apnea and he has to use a machine, which he refuses to use. One day he may never wake up so Sleep Apnea should be taken seriously.:)

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 8 years ago from Central Texas

      I hope he's getting fitted for the equipment, Mistyhorizon! I saw how bad my husband was and I just can't imagine how horrible it must be for someone to witness it so much worse. It's so scary.

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      A friend of ours has this problem, apparently the worst case Guernsey has ever known!!! It was his ex who told him about it as she noticed he stopped breathing for long periods of time when they shared a bed.

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 8 years ago from Central Texas

      I agree with you Ron. It's unfortunate that facilities out there exist that would allow that to happen to people. Sleeping requires trust and if you're not comfy there, how could anyone sleep? The mask does take getting used to.

    • Ron Montgomery profile image

      Ron Montgomery 8 years ago

      My ex-wife alerted me to the fact that I had apnea. We didn't know what it was called, but she would wake up when I stopped snoring/ breathing and shake me awake. Many people do not treat it because of bad sleep study experiences like alekhouse had. Others can't get used to the mask and give up.

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 9 years ago from Central Texas

      I'm glad I could help, D.Cortez! It was a very pleasant experience for my husband. If they determine that you need the equipment, just be honest with them about what is and isn't comfortable. My husband tried several different masks before he found one that was comfortable fitting. He also discovered that he really can't sport a goatee anymore since it seems to interfere with his mask. Some people don't need the full face one like him though. Some use just one that has some tubes to their nostrils.

      Just know that if they determine that you need it, you need it. Try to find what works best for you and give it time. Good luck to you. Let me know how it goes. I'll answer any questions you have.

    • D Cortez profile image

      D Cortez 9 years ago from California

      Great article KCC! I just did an initial test for Sleap Apnea and now I have to go to a sleep clinic. I'm a little nervous about it, but this hub really helped me alot, so thanks.

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 9 years ago from Central Texas

      So true, JG! If people get only one thing out of this article, I hope it's that this is serious and only they can help their friends and loved ones. They have to speak up and tell them. The person with it usually has no idea. And, as we both pointed out, they are often in denial when you do tell them. I'm telling you, you may have to videotape them before they believe it. My husband was so shocked. He is so thankful I caught it and urged him to get help.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 9 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Getting someone with sleep apnea to understand they have a problem - and a dangerous one at that - is the hardest part.  A friend claimed he *had* to "sleep" no less than 10 hours a night.  Even so, he dragged through the day. It wasn't until he spent a couple of nights on my sofa that I realized he wasn't sleeping at all, only dropping off for a few minutes of loud snoring, then there'd be total silence, then that gasp to get air...repeated over and over during the night.  He had no idea his sleep was constantly interrupted. (He wasn't a smoker, btw...)

      Lack of *restful* sleep stresses the heart and causes heart attacks even when the heart is otherwise "healthy".  Breathing machines may look like something out of a sci-fi movie, but they're lifesavers.

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 9 years ago from Central Texas

      LOL @ Teresa It can be maddening for the people who have to sleep with them. It was impossible to sleep with my husband. Not just from the noise, but also how violently he thrashed about. He seriously needed help. He really scared the technicians that first night. Things are so different now.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 9 years ago from The Other Bangor

      Hmmm. My first Sig. Other had sleep apnea. There were times I really wanted to hold a pillow over his face. . .

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 9 years ago from Central Texas

      OMG alekhouse! That is horrible! I must say my husband's experience is quite the opposite. The facility he went to was privately owned and it was like a luxury hotel. It had beautiful pictures on the wall. Each room was like a small suite. He was free to come and go as he wanted up until he was ready to sleep. He was a smoker, so he would roam outside to smoke and come back in. They had bottled drinks and restrooms. No windows. The rooms were nicely furnished and the bedding was clean.

      I don't blame you for leaving. I'm glad the nose strips seem to be helping you. As anyone else observed your sleeping? Spouse? Friend? Relative? You really need to rely on someone you trust to tell you if you should attempt to go back to the doctor. Just knowing what I know, I would recommend you try testing again. However, I'd tell the doctor about your previous experience and ask to visit the facility before making the appointment to ensure it's clean and like you expected.

      Good luck to you!

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 9 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Great article.

      Not too long ago, after reporting that I had a deviated septum and was sleepy all day long to my doctor, he suggested that I have a sleep study done to see if I had sleep apnea. I called a nearby hospital, with a sleep lab, and made an appointment to spend the night there, so they could wire me up and collect data on my sleep habits.

      When I got to the lab, they took me to my room (it was late), told me to get undressed and into bed and they would come in and wire me up. The bed was unmade and the sheets looked dirty. There was no bathroom in the room or nearby, no water and no blanket and no window. When I asked for a blanket, they brought me an old quilt and literally threw it at me.

      When the tech person left the room, I got dressed, got the heck out of there, and never went back. That was a couple of years ago. I use nasal strips now and am getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Sometimes I'm sleepy during the day but, hey, I'm a workaholic and work twelve hours a day seven days a week. To this day, I still don't know if I have sleep apnea.



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