May 27, 2018
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Sleep apnea more common with age

By Carol Higgins Taylor

Sleep. The word conjures up relaxing visions of comfy beds and cozy covers, unless you have sleep disorder, which can make the vision not so relaxing.

Do you go to bed early only to wake up feeling tired? Are you constantly nudged in the night by an impatient spouse because you are snoring? Do you fight nodding off in the middle of the afternoon or find yourself taking naps?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you could have sleep apnea. This medical disorder causes a person to stop breathing for varying periods of time while sleeping, which results in fragmented sleep and a general lack of rest.

One of the most common types of sleep apnea is the obstructive variety where the airway becomes blocked; usually due to the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapsing during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea can also cause throats to feel sore and dry in the morning.

Some sufferers actually wake themselves up by choking and gasping for air. As frightening as these episodes are to listening spouses, sleep interruptions like this can be detrimental to the sleeper’s health as well. They can lead to medical problems including hypertension, stroke, heart failure, irregular heartbeats and heart attacks. Untreated sleep apnea can also cause memory problems, weight gain, mood changes and headaches, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association.

Aging can cause changes in sleep patterns, and while sleep apnea does not practice age discrimination, middle aged men and post-menopausal women are more often bothered by it.

Older people sleep less, experience more fragmented sleep and spend less time in deep sleep and in the dream state of sleep known as REM than younger people do.

Sleep apnea is pretty common, affecting more than 12 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Regardless of age, good restorative sleep is essential to physical and mental health and emotional well-being.

If any of these symptoms sound familiar, see your health care provider to determine if sleep apnea is keeping you up nights. Fortunately, when sleep apnea is properly diagnosed, there are several treatment options available, including avoiding alcohol, the use of oral appliances and surgery. There is also a machine, worn while sleeping, that pushes air through the airway and keeping it open.

Being tired can affect every part of your life, including relationships, because where there’s sleep deprivation, there is usually crankiness, so seeking treatment can make everyone in your life rest a little easier.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging.  Email her at

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