Magazine article Newsweek

Sounds of Sleep: Half of Men over 50 Do It, but the Real Danger Comes from Apnea

Magazine article Newsweek

Sounds of Sleep: Half of Men over 50 Do It, but the Real Danger Comes from Apnea

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Carmichael

Marcel Ascue used to snore so loudly that his 5-year-old son Nathan made a joke of ZZZing whenever he came near. Tired of being a punch line (and just plain tired), Ascue, 44, finally went to the doctor and found he had sleep apnea. Last month he started sleeping with a mask, hooked to an air pressurizer, that covers his nose and forces a steady stream of air down his throat. The jokes haven't stopped yet--now his wife quips that she's sleeping with Darth Vader--but at least the snoring has.

Ascue's story might amuse people who don't snore or have bed partners who do. But that's not many people. By 50, half of men and a quarter of women snore; 10 to 20 percent of Americans seek treatment for snoring each year. The numbers are expected to jump as baby boomers age, since snoring is a side effect of growing old, gaining weight and losing muscle tone. During the day the brain keeps the throat muscles taut and the airway open. When sleep descends, the muscles relax and vibrate as air rushes by. Most snorers have airways that are naturally small or partially blocked by the tonsils, soft palate or the uvula, the floppy tissue that hangs in the back of the throat. The obstructions make the vibrations louder.

For "simple snorers," the nightly noisemaking is merely a nuisance. But in a third of cases, it's a sign of sleep apnea, in which a faulty feedback loop between the brain and the respiratory system lets the airway completely collapse until the brain registers low oxygen levels and jerks the patient awake. …

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