• Harold was finally diagnosed with sleep apnea.

    For years, Harold's wife and children joked about his loud snoring that filled every room in the house at night. The family "joke" became serious when Harold's wife started to notice long pauses in his breathing when he slept. Harold began to notice that he lacked energy nearly every day. As an advertising executive, he worked on commercial sets and would often fall asleep during his lunch break. He was no longer able to do activities he once enjoyed, like playing with his dogs. In addition, Harold found that his diabetes was affected. He became frustrated every morning when he measured his blood glucose levels and found they were unpredictably high, requiring him to take insulin injections.

    Common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:

    • Excessive daytime sleepiness
    • Loud, disruptive snoring
    • Irregular breathing during sleep (eg: gasping, long pauses, shallow breathing ñ a spouse or partner may notice these)
    • Restless sleep
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Depression or irritability
    • Morning headaches
    • High blood pressure

    Many people are not even aware that they have sleep apnea. Often, a bed partner is the first to witness their symptoms.

    Mary was put on the standard dosage (20 mg) of several different types of anti-depressants, including Prozac© and Celexa©. Mary felt slightly better, but felt she was looking through "smoke and mirrors" and her symptoms had not disappeared.

    What is sleep apnea?

    Sleep apnea is a general term for breathing problems that occur during sleep. People with sleep apnea stop breathing throughout the night up to 100 times per hour.

    Sleep apnea affects approximately 20 million adults, and has serious negative health effects when present with other conditions.

    Sleep apnea may cause symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, many physicians may be unaware of the connection between sleep apnea and depression and may lead to a misdiagnosis of depression instead of sleep apnea. If you suffer from heart failure, high blood pressure or diabetes, treating your sleep apnea may improve all of these conditions in addition to making you feel better.

    The good news is that sleep apnea can be treated easily!

    Finally, Mary had a good night's sleep. She slept upright on an airplane ride to Brazil, and didn't even snore that night. (Sleep apnea worsens when patients sleep on their back.) This helped Mary realize that her symptoms were due to a lack of sleep and not depression. Mary finally consulted a doctor who specialized in sleep disorders and had an overnight study to diagnose her sleep apnea.

    Mary was prescribed a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine for her condition. After starting therapy, her quality of life improved immediately. Mary felt amazing after her first night on therapy. Her sleep apnea had completely disappeared. In addition, after one week of therapy Mary felt so much better that she began withdrawing from her depression medication. For the last three years since Mary has been on CPAP, her life has changed drastically. She has ceased taking depression medication and no longer feels depressed. She has renewed energy and eliminated most of the caffeine consumption from her diet. She has also 20 lbs because she now has the energy to exercise.

    What IS CPAP therapy?

    CPAP is the most widely accepted treatment for sleep apnea. A bedside device gently delivers pressurized air through a nasal mask or pillows system. This pressure acts like an "air splint" to keep the upper airway open and help prevent apneas. CPAP treatment does not involve drugs or surgery and helps hundreds of thousands of people worldwide enjoy healthier sleep and a healthier life. Many patients experience the benefits quickly-often after the first night of use. There is no cure for sleep apnea at this time.

    Mary no longer feels tired or takes depression medication. Her home life has improved and her husband is thrilled she has the energy to go out to dinner and play with her children.

    "It (CPAP therapy) helps you get control over your health. It just makes you feel better about yourself. Who doesn't want to be a happy family person? Who doesn't want to be a good employee?"

    -- Dee S., Lafayette, L.A.

    Courtesy of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (http://www.aasmnet.org)