Do you snore?

Are you sleepy during the day?

Do you wake up with a dry throat or headache?

Do you fall asleep at inappropriate times?

Are you irritable and fatigued during the day?

Are you as tired when you get up as you were before you went to sleep?

If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, you could have a serious sleep disorder.

Sleep is absolutely essential for normal, healthy function. However, 40 million people in the United States suffer from chronic long-term sleep disorders each year and an additional 20 million suffer occasional sleep problems.

There are around 92 sleep disorders that can be classified into one of three categories: Lack of sleep (insomnia); disturbed sleep (obstructive sleep apnea or OSA); and excessive sleep (narcolepsy).

In most cases, sleep disorders can be easily managed once they are properly diagnosed. The first step is to recognize you may have a problem.

Listen to your body

“If it looks like sleep, sounds like sleep, but it is not sleep,” then you could be among the millions of men, women and children who have an undiagnosed, but potentially serious, condition known as sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a treatable disorder in which a person stops breathing during sleep, often hundreds of times during the night. The most common kind of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) Syndrome.

People with OSA stop breathing repeatedly during sleep because the airway collapses. The airway can become obstructed at several possible sites. The obstruction can occur from excess tissue in the airway, large tonsils, a large tongue and usually includes the airway muscles relaxing and collapsing when asleep. As a result, air is prevented from getting into the lungs.

With each episode, Dr. Sandra K. Schuldheisz of the Lung and Sleep Disorder Institute in Somerset said the brain will receive a signal to wake up in order to resume breathing.

This will trigger a series of interruptions in the sleeping pattern as the brain constantly tries to arouse the person from sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea are generally unaware of the awakenings but complain of being sleepy during the day. A frequent side effect is snoring or gasping for air during sleep. Loud snoring, punctuated with periods of silence, is typical but not always present in children.

“When the brain thinks you are suffocating, it sends out a couple of chemicals that strain the body, particularly the heart and cardiovascular system,” said Schuldheisz, who is board certified in the treatment of pulmonary medicine, critical care and sleep.

Consequences of untreated sleep apnea include high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease and weight gain. Some frequent complaints include falling asleep inappropriately, morning headaches, memory problems, feelings of depression, reflux, frequent urination and impotence.

Schuldheisz said children with untreated sleep apnea often have the opposite symptoms from adults. Children become hyperactive and are sometimes misdiagnosed, she said.

Snoring is a warning and should serve as a conversation piece to talk to your physician about sleep apnea.

“You could be the worst snorer in the county and it is not going to hurt you, but if you snore and it blocks the airway, it will get you in trouble,” Schuldheisz said.

Most adults get between six to eight hours of sleep per night, an adequate amount to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to start the day. “If every day you wake up...hit the snooze button...get to work sluggish...these are some warning signs,” Schuldheisz said.

Undiagnosed sleep apnea can be an underlying cause of other medical conditions. A patient may go to his or her physician with another medical problem when Schuldheisz said sleep apnea could be at the root of the complaint.

Sleep disorders are often overlooked because of other medical conditions that can cause similar problems.

Schuldheisz can screen patients for OSA. The next step is to conduct a sleep study. “We have the patient come in and sleep with us overnight in a private suite,” she said.

During an overnight sleep study, the patient’s sleeping pattern is monitored and the data collected is used to determine a recommended course of treatment.

Mild sleep apnea can be treated with behavioral changes. Losing weight, avoiding alcohol at bedtime and sleeping on your side are often recommended. There are oral mouth devices that help keep the airway open and possibly reduce snoring.

Moderate to severe sleep apnea is usually treated with a CPAP (continous positive airway pressure). CPAP is a machine that blows air into your nose via a nose mask, keeping the airway open and unobstructed.

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious medical problems and is the leading source of job impairment and increased risks of motor vehicle accidents.

Many people take a good night’s sleep for granted. For others, sleep can be extremely fragmented and of poor quality.

A person who thinks he or she may be a candidate for OSA or other sleep disorders should consult a physician. Your doctor may refer you to a sleep medical specialist to properly diagnose and treat your sleep disorder. n

Schuldheisz’s office is located at

349 Bogle Street, Suite A,

or call, 679-0179

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