Plenty of Laborers lose sleep every night over their own or their partner’s snoring. National Sleep Foundation (NSF) research finds that approximately 90 million Americans snore and the likelihood goes up as people age. So does the probability of developing Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a chronic and potentially dangerous disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.

Sleep apnea takes several forms, but OSA is the most common. The condition can affect anyone, including children. Overweight men are particularly susceptible. The NSF reports that excess girth, especially around the neck and trunk, is often the cause for sleep-disordered breathing.

However, an estimated 18 million Americans – one in every 15, including many well within appropriate weight guidelines – have OSA. One in every 50 has OSA but goes undiagnosed. People with OSA usually do not fully awaken when they experience apneas. They have no explanation for why they feel tired after a night of sleep. Bedmates suffering sleep deprivation due to their partners’ snoring and breathing struggles are usually the ones who call attention to the problem.

People snore when the throat, the soft palate and other tissue lose firmness – often due to aging – obstructing the airway during sleep. As the sleeper breathes through the narrowed space, these tissues vibrate. Snoring results. The more constricted the airway, the louder the snoring.

At this stage, snoring is more of an annoyance for the bedmate than harmful for the sleeper. However, it often develops into OSA, which can be life threatening. OSA is characterized by loud snoring interrupted by apneas – silent periods of no breathing – followed by snorting and gasping as breathing resumes. This cycle repeats itself hundreds of times a night. It stems from the airway becoming completely blocked by floppy throat muscles and tissues and then reopening as the sleeper stirs. Apneas cause oxygen levels in the blood to fall, stress the heart and elevate blood pressure. OSA impacts brain organization, dreams and overall health.

Untreated, OSA is serious. It leads to increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity and diabetes. It is also dangerous to others. The excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia) that results can impair job performance and lead to serious traffic accidents. Drivers with untreated OSA are three to five times more likely to be involved in a crash resulting in personal injury. A construction worker with untreated OSA who is operating machinery has a very good chance of getting hurt or hurting someone else.

A sleep study is necessary for diagnosing OSA. This involves an overnight stay at a lab so that a person’s breathing can be monitored during sleep.

A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is the most common treatment for OSA. Through a mask that fits over the mouth and nose or just over the nose, the CPAP gently blows air into the sleeper’s throat. This prevents the airway from becoming obstructed. Snoring stops and sound sleep returns as the sleeper is no longer gasping for breath.

Lifestyle changes (losing weight), mouthpieces and surgery are other treatment options. The severity of the OSA determines which treatment is appropriate.

Sawing Z’s is nothing to laugh at or ignore. If you or your partner is snoring, find out if OSA is the cause and do something about it. The sooner OSA is addressed, the sooner you’ll get back sleep that is restful, healthy and quiet.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]