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Photo: cherrybeans/Getty Images/iStockphoto, License: N/A, Created: 2017:05:02 12:21:39

Man demonstrates placing CPAP mask that assists in combatting obstructive sleep apnea, allowing for more restful sleep.

By Phil Yacuboski

Eight hours a night, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Did I forget the occasional power nap?

We spend a lot of time sleeping.

And while workouts, kids, families, jobs and just plain ’ole stress can get in the way, a good night’s sleep is very important for rest and recovery.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder, which causes a person to stop breathing while sleeping. The airway becomes blocked and the person snores loudly or even begins to choke. It can happen a few times during the night or even several hundred times a night.

Diagnoses and treatment have come a long way.

“Patients used to have sleep studies done at a sleep center,” said Dr. Samer Alkhuja, a sleep apnea specialist with the Pocono Medical Center. “People used to have to leave their home, but nowadays technology allows us to do those sleep studies at home.”

Those home studies are convenient for the patient, he said.

“They get those kits from the center and you sleep for two nights with the kit and then you deliver that back to the sleep center,” he said.

That information is then downloaded and then the results are discussed with the patient and the doctor.

“This is a new way of diagnosing the condition,” he said.

Sleep apnea can cause a number of problems, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The lack of oxygen being delivered to the brain can result in high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol and diabetes. It can also make you drowsy and tired during the day. Nearly 30 million Americans suffer with the disease, according to their research.

Advancements also are being made when it comes to treatment. The days of the old noisy machine next to the bed are no longer, said Dr. Alkhuja.

“The new machines are small and they are quiet,” he said. “The only way you know the machine is on is if you look to see if the light is on.”

He said the new machines treat patients with air pressure and without a mask.

“A lot of people have problems with the mask,” he said. “They are claustrophobic and they can’t tolerate a big mask on their face to sleep with so they use this new technique and breath through the nose.”

Dr. Alkhuja also said another new device is all in one piece.

“It’s like a denture,” he said. “It’s made custom for the patient. This is for people who can’t have a machine at all.”

Patients put the denture in their mouth and it pushes the lower jaw forward to create some room in the back of the mouth. It fits like a sports or mouth guard.

“When they sleep, they won’t snore or collapse their airway,” said Dr. Alkhuja.

More people are being treated for sleep apnea, said Dr. Alkhuja, for two reasons: he believes more people have health insurance and are seeking treatment as well as obesity.

“More people are obese and sleep apnea is connected to that,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s like an endemic. The incidence of sleep apnea is more.”

He said a treatment plan can also include losing weight.

“If someone loses about 15 pounds, your condition improves,” he said. “There is a chance that if a person loses enough weight, they can lose the sleep apnea all together and all that comes with it.”

Pennsylvania has the 25th highest obesity numbers in the United States, according to research compiled by The State of Obesity Project released in August of 2017. Currently, 30.3 percent of Pennsylvanians are obese, up from 20.3 percent in 2000 and 13.7 percent in 1990. The numbers are split almost evenly among gender and race. The highest percentage of obese adults is between the ages of 45 and 64, according to the research.