Extreme sleepiness during the day is the most common sign of a problem called sleep apnea. This breathing disorder actually causes people to stop breathing for 10 to 60 seconds at a time during sleep. When this happens, the amount of oxygen in the blood drops, and the brain must wake the person up so breathing can begin. Sometimes, this cycle happens more than 300 times a night.
Besides feeling sleepy during the day, other symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, choking, or gasping during sleep; morning headaches; trouble with concentration or memory; and mood changes, such as depression.
In most people, collapse of the tongue, palate, or uvula at the back of the throat may block airflow. Excess weight aggravates the problem. In some cases, sleep apnea occurs when the brain doesn't signal the body to breathe when it should.
Sleep apnea is serious. Untreated, it raises the risk of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, irregular heart rhythms, heart attack, stroke, memory loss, and even death.
If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, talk to your doctor. You may need to participate in a sleep study. This would involve having your brain waves, heartbeat, and breathing tracked during the night.
Sleep studies are available at New London Hospital to help doctors in the Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee area diagnose sleep disorders in their patients. Directed by neurologist Donald Ayres, MD of Upper Valley Neurology Neurosurgery, the sleep lab at NLH is convenient and easy for patients to use.
Primary care physicians can refer patients to the Sleep Disorders Center at New London Hospital and NLH will work with Upper Valley Neurology Neurosurgery (UVNN) for a sleep consultation in New London. If a sleep study is indicated, the patient will be called to arrange a night of testing at the hospital. UVNN will then read the results and prescribe the most effective course of treatment.
For more information on sleep disorders, visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine-sponsored website.