Emergency, Emergency, 911, 911!
If you, or your partner is living with an undiagnosed sleep disorder not only could your health be at risk, but your relationship is certainly to be under severe strain! A little bit of information can go a long way toward understanding why people can live with sleep apnea and hypopnea for years or decades(!) without even realizing that there is a problem. Untreated sleep disorders can lead to chronic fatigue, decreased quality of life, marital breakdown and even death (try taking the PT Cruiser for a spin while falling asleep at the wheel...).
The biggest reason why people with sleep disorders do not realize that they are ill is that they are sleeping while the symptoms are present... Nowadays you won't find too many people who don't complain of being overworked and under-slept, so how do you determine the ones who have legitimate sleeping disorders?
Well, partners or family members who have the opportunity to observe a person while at rest can provide a great deal of information. Approximately 18 million Americans live with Sleep Apnea (the temporary cessation of breathing while sleeping) and people who observe their partners seemingly stop breathing, gasp for breath or "underbreathe" are probably witnessing a sleeping disorder. In severe cases of Sleep Apnea, the affected is literally engaged in a nightly battle for sufficient oxygen to wake up in the morning. Because snoring is often occurring at the same time, partners are much more likely to react to the interruption to their own sleep by heading to the spare room or banishing the snorer to the couch than they are to note the more subtle signs of a sleep disorder.
To live with a sleep disorder is to be caught in a downward spiral. When people get less than 80% of the oxygen that they need each night, they awaken severely fatigued and are liable to exert themselves less the next day which in turn leads to decreased activity and energy levels. This, in turn, causes a predisposition to obesity which exacerbates the symptoms of sleep apnea. A person can fall so far behind in their work and responsibilities that trying increase activity in order to offset weight gain becomes nigh on impossible. At this point, people with severe sleep disorders are completely consumed by just trying to make it through to the end of each day.
Unquestionably, people who suspect they may be living with sleep disorders should seek medical treatment. With treatment, the prognosis for sleep disorder sufferers is excellent. Weight management can be a solution but specially fitted breathing apparatus (worn only at night!) can also help people to awake sufficiently refreshed to make the kinds of life changes they need to make in order to stay healthy in the long term.
Anyone with the slightest suspicion that he or she, or someone they love, is living with an eating disorder should consult with a family doctor. Given that the stress associated with not sleeping can lead to the breakup of families, that the disorder is relatively easily managed, and it can be treated so very confidentially, there really is little excuse to not seek help.