Sleep Apnea:  8 Things That Make It Worse

IT'S ESTIMATED THAT more than 18 million adults in the U.S. have obstructive sleep apnea, according to the National Sleep Foundation, and for the majority who suffer from the most common form of sleep-disordered breathing, it goes undiagnosed.

Throat muscles, which are usually tense while awake, relax during sleep, allowing the airway to collapse or become plugged by the tongue. As with a kinked hose, the flow stops, sometimes for 10 seconds or more. As the brain senses distress, people may bolt upright and gasp for air, or they may simply snort and go back to sleep, experts say. This can go on hundreds of times a night, without the person realizing it. And it can erode health, says Michael Twery, director of National Center on Sleep Disorders Research within the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Untreated, sleep apnea has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, memory loss, obesity, parasomnias (or involuntary behaviors like sleepwalking) and insulin resistance, a precursor to Type 2 diabetes. And research shows a link between severe sleep apnea, the repeated drops in blood oxygen levels, and premature death. What's more, the ensuing daytime sleepiness can also be a "public health hazard, if you happen to be an airline pilot or a 16-wheel truck driver who is sleeping at the wheel," says Dr. Alex Chediak, a past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Snore loudly? Feel exhausted despite a "good night's rest?" It might be time to discuss symptoms with a doctor, says Twery, adding: "The initial detection of this condition often stems from things that the patient can tell their physician – there's no blood test." Those deemed at risk may be referred to a sleep specialist for a sleep study to evaluate for obstructive sleep apnea, although home-based testing options are available as well.


Written by Lindsay Lyon and Michael O. Schroeder

Lindsay Lyon, Senior Editor for the Consumer Advice section, is responsible for editing stories on a range of topics including personal finance and health. Since joining U.S. News in 2007, she worked as a health reporter and went on to lead the health section at, managing a team of reporters and contributors. She co-created and directed the Best Diets rankings franchise through several launches, promoting it with on-air appearances on programs including Good Morning America. She also edited the health section of the U.S. News e-book, “How to Live to 100.” Previously, she was part of the PR team at IU Health, the largest hospital system in Indiana, where she led media relations for a nationally ranked children’s hospital. She serves on the alumni board of the journalism program at Indiana University-Bloomington – her alma mater. After graduating, she completed a Pulliam Fellowship in feature writing at the Indianapolis Star, and then spent a year teaching English in Madrid, Spain. She is based in Chicago. Michael Schroeder is a health editor at U.S. News. He covers a wide array of topics ranging from cancer to depression and prevention to overtreatment. He's been reporting on health since 2005. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at

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