Ask Neal Lilly about the impact of sleep apnea, and he’ll recount the story of a young father who was so tired throughout the day he struggled to muster the energy to play with his kids when he got home.
Lilly, a physician’s assistant with Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Myrtle Beach, prescribed a sleep study for the man, who returned to the office for a checkup three months after being diagnosed with sleep apnea. During the intervening months, the patient had been using a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP, machine every night, and the benefits were obvious.
“You wouldn’t recognize him,” Lilly says. “He had bright eyes. You could tell there was something different about him – he was so excited and said he had a lot more energy to play with his kids.”
An estimated 22 million Americans have sleep apnea, and most don’t even know it, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association. The condition can affect people of all age groups, genders and body types.
The sleep disorder comes in three types:
- Obstructive sleep apnea, caused by soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapsing and blocking the airway during sleep
- Central sleep apnea, in which the brain fails to signal your muscles to breathe while you’re sleeping
- Mixed sleep apnea, in which a patient suffers from both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
The common theme among them? In all cases, patients temporarily stop breathing during the night, which causes brief, partial awakenings, Lilly says. These episodes can happen dozens of times a night, inhibiting deep, restorative sleep. Many people aren’t aware of the awakenings or remember them.