I have sleep apnea, and I am not alone.
Sleep apnea is a very common type of sleep disorder, in which over the course of a night, a person experiences involuntary, interrupted breathing or very shallow breaths. These breathing pauses last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, and can occur up to 100 times per hour. As a result, the person suffering from sleep apnea usually does not experience adequate episodes of deep Stages 3-4 sleep, which is the type of sleep that allows the body to restore itself. Hence, the person feels fatigued all day, regardless of how many hours they sleep in a given night.
There are also many other dangerous consequences.
Because a person’s breathing is so shallow and interrupted so frequently, their blood oxygen level fluctuates, reaching dangerously low oxygen saturation levels. Typically, a normal, healthy person maintains a pulse oximeter reading of 95-100 percent (a measure of oxygen saturation), with levels below 90 percent considered low. In contrast, during episodes of breathing pauses, a person’s pulse oximeter reading can dangerously drop to less than half of the normal range — my own personal reading dropped to a low of 56 percent over the course of my diagnostic test. Given the nightly experience of sleep apnea, these constant fluctuations cause very serious bodily damage over time.
In addition, individuals who suffer from sleep apnea are at a much higher risk for diabetes, hypertension, stroke, obesity, heart problems, falling asleep while driving, mental health issues, pregnancy complications, and a variety of other health issues. It is also a double-edged sword, in that individuals who currently have problems with hypertension, diabetes and obesity are also at greater risk for developing sleep apnea.
More recent research has also implicated the experience of systemic poverty as a significant risk factor. This is not surprising, given that the effects of systemic poverty are widespread and insidious, and include poor access to proper nutrition, exposure to greater levels of pollution, and a high level of chronic stress. Given that the Latino community suffers from significant levels of poverty – especially in children – Latinos tend to be at a higher risk for sleep disorders of this nature.
Sadly, sleep apnea is very much underdiagnosed.
It is often dismissed as a mere snoring problem by many who suffer from it. Typically, a person realizes they have nightly breathing interruptions only after their partner or other family members witness these interruptions for themselves.
Unfortunately, diagnosing and treatment of sleep apnea can be very expensive. First, the patient must participate in a sleep study to determine the severity of the sleep apnea and generate an appropriate treatment level. Second, sleep apnea is treated through the nightly use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that the patient must purchase, along with the monthly supplies. Nightly CPAP use is literally a life-saving treatment, but unless the sleep study and machine are covered by an individual’s insurance company, they are often beyond many individuals’ financial means — out-of-pocket costs can easily be around $5000-$6000. Given that many individuals in poverty are either underinsured or not covered at all, this makes proper treatment often unattainable.
I encourage any of you who think you may be suffering from sleep apnea to consult a physician as soon as possible. It could literally save your life.