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Falling asleep during the day?

You may be suffering from a serious sleep disorder

Loud, disruptive snoring could be a sign of sleep apnea. Stock photo

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Are you falling asleep during the middle of the day even after sleeping eight hours? Does your bed partner complain about your loud, disruptive snoring? If so, you may be suffering from sleep apnea, a severe sleep disorder that can lead to more serious health issues and even a shortened lifespan.

According to Dr. (Capt.) Jennifer Slowik, a Sleep Medicine and Family Medicine physician at Madigan Army Medical Center, other symptoms include:

  • Bed partner reporting frequent pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Frequently waking up coughing, choking or with palpitations
  • Falling asleep easily but waking up frequently throughout the night
  • Urinating frequently at night despite a relative decrease in fluid intake in the evenings
  • Waking frequently with a dry mouth
  • Waking frequently with a sour taste in your mouth without daytime acid reflux symptoms
  • Having frequent morning headaches that go away shortly after waking up but before caffeine intake
  • Mood changes -- hypertension (especially if it's resistant to medications)

"There are other possible symptoms, but these are the big ones," Slowik said. "Any one of these alone is not necessarily an indication of sleep apnea, but the more you have, the higher your suspicion should be. If these symptoms arise after a 20-plus-pound weight gain, your suspicion should be especially high. Also, listen to your bed partner. If (he or she is) complaining frequently about your snoring, it's worth looking into."

Your first step if you think you have sleep apnea is to schedule a visit with your Primary Care Manager (PCM), who will put in a referral for you to see a sleep specialist. A sleep study is required to diagnose sleep apnea accurately. There is a home test option, but this may not be the best option for some people.

"Although (home tests) are available and useful in certain circumstances, they are not generally the best option for active-duty," Slowik said. "Home sleep tests can underestimate the number of events someone has per hour. Since younger patients often have more mild disease and fewer or less severe drops in their oxygen saturation, it may not pick up mild obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)."

Should military supervisors be concerned that sleep apnea can affect job performance or effectiveness?

"It has the potential to be dangerous in almost any job since most people drive to and from work. The most common jobs that are intensively monitored are pilots and air traffic controllers, but if OSA is well controlled and they are compliant with treatment, they can typically keep working," Slowik said.

It is important if you are getting close to retirement or getting out of the military to get any medical issues documented.  

"If you are having difficulty with the symptoms previously mentioned, don't wait until you are about to get out to be evaluated. If you have sleep apnea, treating it sooner rather than later can greatly improve quality of life for you and your entire family and prevent potentially irreversible health problems," she said. "If you can improve the quality of someone's sleep you can improve their whole life."

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