Sleep Apnea: Persistence Pays Off

Matthew Gironta

Sleep apnea is a common disease that can have significant effects on metabolism and the cardiovascular system if not treated. Felix Demicco lives with this disorder every day. For years, he has been treated for sleep apnea and has gone through appropriate steps to stay healthy. However, life with sleep apnea has not always been easy for him.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, over 18 million adults in the United States have sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when breathing during sleep is interrupted repeatedly for small spans of time due to the inability of muscles to keep the airway open.

Non-restful sleep patterns and low oxygen levels from interrupted breathing contribute to this disorder’s wide range of complications. Aside from persistent exhaustion, some people may develop high blood pressure, heart disease, mood and memory problems, dizziness, and may fall asleep during important activities, such as driving. There is also evidence that sleep apnea can decrease insulin sensitivity and worsen diabetes control.

"According to the National Sleep Foundation, over 18 million adults in the United States have sleep apnea."

Mr. Demicco has had sleep apnea for about 20 years. At diagnosis, he had difficulty staying alert and focused on a task. “Prior to the treatment I would fall asleep anytime. In the middle of a sentence I would fall asleep,” he related. He also noted that his blood pressure was very high and hard to control and his concentration was diminished.

Similar to many other people, Mr. Demicco’s evaluation started with a sleep study. Physicians checked his breathing, oxygen level and heart rate while he slept. After his sleep study, Mr. Demicco was prescribed a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which he continues to use. As a result, he is more alert, he doesn’t have daytime sleepiness, and his blood pressure is easier to control. He is not certain of the impact of sleep apnea treatment on his blood sugar, but his diabetes is well controlled.

Over the last two decades, Mr. Demicco has been retested to make sure that his equipment fits properly and that the oxygen level and pressure are correct. Over time, the technology has advanced. Mr. Demicco now has heated and moisturized equipment to make the treatment more comfortable. After all these years, if he misses a treatment he feels “lousy, tired…can’t think, can’t even talk.” Mr. Demicco has a message for those who have been recently diagnosed with sleep apnea and are having trouble adjusting to CPAP: “Stick with it, you get used to it. Once you get used to it, you won’t want to sleep without it.”

For people affected by sleep apnea, the key to improvement is persistence with the treatment. Keeping up with the treatment will result in decreased risk of heart disease, better control of blood pressure, less fatigue and possibly even better control of diabetes. If you suspect you have sleep apnea or you are struggling with treatment, talk with your doctor—the benefits of treatment are far beyond just a good night’s sleep.