One of the keys to having a good day starts with a good night's sleep. This National Sleep Awareness Week we're echoing the National Sleep Foundation to remind you that a good day and good health begins with sleep. The National Sleep Foundation defines good quality sleep as:

  • Sleeping more time while in bed (at least 85 percent of the total time)
  • Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less
  • Waking up no more than once per night; and
  • Being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep.

But quality sleep may be difficult to achieve for someone living with obstructive sleep apnea (aka sleep apnea), a respiratory condition that interrupts sleep by stopping and starting your breathing.

People with sleep apnea have airways that repeatedly collapse when throat muscles relax during sleep, blocking the flow of air. The disease causes snoring and choking or gasping during sleep, which can, of course, make it difficult to sleep well at night. People with sleep apnea often feel like they haven't slept at all, even if they sleep for the recommended seven to nine hours each night, because they wake up so often. Often people with obstructive sleep apnea don't know they have the disorder.

In addition to snoring, gasping and poor sleep quality, other symptoms of sleep apnea can include tiredness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, morning headaches and dry mouth. Sleep apnea may increase the risk for many health problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

"Sleep apnea started being diagnosed in the '70s but is now becoming more of an issue," said Albert Rizzo, M.D., American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer.

Sleep apnea can affect anyone, but risk factors include being overweight, having a large neck circumference (17 inches or more for men and 15 inches or more for women), high blood pressure or smoking. In the United States, about 10 to 30 percent of adults may have sleep apnea. However, according to Dr. Rizzo, it is underdiagnosed and underappreciated. Others who are more likely to be at risk of sleep apnea include:

  • People with large tonsils or adenoids
  • Anyone who snores
  • Those with a family history of obstructive sleep apnea
  • Individuals with jaw misalignment that causes their tongue to rest farther back in their mouth

"The more awareness of the importance of screening for sleep apnea, the better," Dr. Rizzo said.

If you or your bed partner are having trouble getting that good night's sleep and are at risk or have symptoms of sleep apnea, your doctor can screen you for the disorder. If warranted, your doctor will prescribe a sleep study to diagnose or rule out sleep apnea. Fortunately, there are treatments available to make sleeping with the sleep apnea easier and restful. A few of those treatments include:

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): CPAP is a machine that gently blows air into your airway to keep it open while you sleep. You wear a mask that either fits into your nostrils, over your nose and/or over your mouth. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggests that CPAP even reduces mortality rates in people who have COPD and obstructive sleep apnea overlap syndrome.

Weight loss: Losing just 10 percent of your body weight can improve your sleep apnea. Sometimes losing weight may even cure it.

Quit smoking: This may improve your sleep apnea because cigarette smoke can increase swelling in your airways. Visit to get resources to help you quit.

If you have sleep apnea, treating your condition can help you get a good night's sleep and help you seize the day. One key to managing your symptoms is to find support. The American Lung Association recommends patients and caregivers join our free, online Living with Lung Disease Support Community to connect with others facing this disease. You can also call the Lung Association's Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA to talk to a trained respiratory professional who can help answer your questions and connect you with support.

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