Harvard Health Letter

Sleep apnea: Keeping up the positive pressure

Many people have trouble sticking with the main treatment, the continuous positive airway pressure machines that keep airways open.

If you snore, it can be hard on those within earshot, especially bed partners. But if you snore and have sleep apnea, it's hard on you, too. Without realizing it, people with sleep apnea briefly stop breathing — apnea means cessation of breathing — or breathe very shallowly many times during the night.

The consequences include bad sleep and all that can come from that: grogginess when you're awake, an inability to concentrate, depression, accidents. Numerous studies have linked sleep apnea to various cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart arrhythmias. Uneven breathing lowers oxygen levels in the blood, which can trigger aspects of the flight-or-fight response that boosts blood pressure. The herky-jerky breathing of sleep apnea may overtax the heart.

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