- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Sleep apnea — marked by loud snoring and patterns of stop-and-start breathing — is a potentially life-threatening disorder most commonly found in overweight, middle-age men, but experts say it takes a toll on the entire family.

“Kids are living with a parent who is excessively sleepy and irritable,” so they suffer, said Terri E. Weaver, a University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing professor who will give the keynote address at the third annual Sleep Apnea Awareness Day lecture today in the District.

“And the spouse or other bed partner of someone with sleep apnea also has his or her quality of life and sleep disrupted.”

Ms. Weaver also said an untreated sleep apnea victim is “less interested in sexual activity” and is more likely to face a relationship failure or divorce.

“Sleep apnea has a very persuasive impact. It makes it very difficult for someone to carry out his daily activities.”

Sufferers, she said, will “fall asleep at work,” become “forgetful, depressed,” inattentive or confused, “and not be productive.”

Nancy H. Rothstein, author of the sleep-disorder-related book, “Daddy Snores,” also will speak at the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) event being held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Edward Grandi, executive director of ASAA, said an estimated 18 million to 20 million Americans exhibit sleep apnea. “But 80 percent of the people who have it don’t know it.”

With sleep apnea, a person’s breathing stops hundreds of times as he tries to sleep. He wakes up briefly each time his breathing stops and then falls asleep again, never knowing he awakened.

Today’s program will focus on obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form of the disorder. It occurs when someone’s upper airway is blocked by excess tissue, such as a large uvula (the appendage at the back of the throat), the tongue or tonsils. When sleep causes a person’s muscles to relax, the excess tissue tends to fall into the airway to obstruct breathing.

Ms. Weaver said some people who are told they are chronic snorers either dismiss the claims or consider the symptom unimportant.

But they should see their doctor, she said, because sleep apnea can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Ms. Weaver pointed out that most people with obstructive sleep apnea who seek treatment wind up with masklike devices that supply continuous air flow during sleep to improve breathing. But she said some require surgery to remove obstructive tissue from the throat.

When “people get treated for sleep apnea,” she said, the health and energy level of their bed partner “also improves.”

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