By Andrew Koch

Is a loved one preventing you from
getting a good night’s sleep? Does
someone in your household snore so
loudly that the walls shake, the dog
hides, and you can hear them in the
room next door?
Often, snoring is due to redundant or
lax tissue in the throat that vibrates
while you breathe. Snoring does not
adversely affect everyone; however,
in certain people, snoring can be
indicative of a much more serious
health condition called Obstructive
Sleep Apnea.
Breathing is an involuntary reflex and
something that happens instinctively
when we are awake and asleep. While
awake, humans have the conscious
ability to control our breathing if we
focus, like holding your breath when
swimming. But, when we sleep our
breathing is automatic. Obstructive
Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a condition in
which you stop or severely slow your
breathing during sleep. This change
in breathing pattern may happen once
or twice a minute, or several hundred
times over the course of a night.
During these events, your brain
senses that you have changed your
breathing pattern and that the available
oxygen in your body is decreasing.
The brain institutes compensatory
mechanisms to ensure that you
continue breathing to maintain proper
oxygen saturation. When your brain
must stimulate your breathing, it releases
stress hormones into your body.
A surge of these hormones leads to an
increased heart rate, an arousal from
sleep, and a gasp for breath. Often, the
snoring person won’t even recognize
this has happened and continues
“sleeping” like nothing has happened.
While a person affected with OSA
may not notice he or she has it, others
might be more attuned to the problem.
In addition to the snoring, one of
the most common symptoms reported
by a partner is a standstill in breathing
while sleeping. Common reports
are snorting, followed by beginning
breathing again, or even a gasp for
The third classic sign is excessive
daytime sleepiness. Are you always
tired? Could you fall asleep anywhere
if given two minutes to relax? One
of the questions a doctor may ask
is: are you still tired in the morning
when you wake up? Or they may ask
if you toss and turn at night, another
indicator of quality of sleep. Other
common symptoms include morning
headaches and difficulty with shortterm
memory or concentration. If you
or your partner is experiencing any of
these symptoms, please ask your doctor
about sleep apnea.
In order to be diagnosed with OSA,
you must have an overnight sleep
study called a polysomnography; a
painless and easy test during which
brain activity, body movement,
airflow, pulse oximetry, heart rhythm
and snoring are recorded via computer
and videotape.
In addition, OSA can carry some
serious health risks. Being sleepdeprived
is similar to driving drunk
and increases by 2.5 times the risk
of being in a motor vehicle accident.
OSA can cause or exacerbate high
blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes,
obesity and depression. Severe,
untreated OSA even increases risk for
heart attack and stroke, both of which
can be fatal.
When your mom or grandmother told
you it was important to get a good
night’s sleep, they weren’t just pulling
your leg.
Andy Koch spent a month at the Medical
Clinic of Big Sky as a forth year
medical student this past ski season.
He is going into a residency in Internal