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Disorder has many tossing, turning

Sunday, January 25, 2004

(Photo)
A person suffering from sleep apnea can wear a breathing mask hooked up to a continuous positive airway pressure machine.
SIKESTON -- After years of snoring, tossing and turning at night, and then getting up after 12 hours of sleep -- only to feel more tired, Jim Copeland admits he is finally feeling relief.

When the 32-year-old underwent surgery last November, Copeland found out he quit breathing for short periods multiple times during the operation. He was referred by his physician to a sleep lab, which monitors a person's sleep and breathing pattern.

During the sleep lab, Copeland stopped breathing 108 times. From that information and other factors, it was confirmed Copeland had what millions of people around the world have -- sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep reports the American Sleep Apnea Association.

"I would sleep for 12 hours and when I woke up, I could go right back to sleep," Copeland explained.

Copeland would even fall asleep at awkward times -- in the barber's chair or during the delay of a conversation, he said.

"Now I can go to bed at 12:30 a.m. and get up at a quarter till 6 in the morning and I feel fine," Copeland said.

As treatment for the disorder, Copeland wears a breathing mask hooked up to a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine which pushes air through the airway at a pressure high enough to keep the airway open during sleep.

Although the mask is a little funny looking, it beats sleepless nights and tired days, Copeland said.

"He looks like an elephant when he wears it," laughed his wife, Dana Copeland. "At first it kind of creeped me out. It was like I was sleeping with someone on life support," she joked.

While the mask may not be the most attractive accessory, Copeland said since he's been wearing it at night, he's never felt better -- and his wife is thrilled, too.

"We're a happier couple now," Dana Copeland laughed. "He would snore pretty bad, and it got to the point where he was grouchy all the time."

The Copeland's aren't alone in the disorder. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, more than 12 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and it is estimated conservatively that 10 million remain undiagnosed.

And Norma Jamerson, assistant director of the sleep lab at Missouri Delta Medical Center's Sleep Institute, said she sees people from all over the area who have the disorder.

"Most don't know about it and don't have an idea they have it," Jamerson pointed out.

Common symptoms include snoring, being tired all the time even after a long night's sleep, high blood pressure, waking up gasping in night, muscle weakness and falling asleep at inappropriate times

"They just never feel rested," said the registered sleep technician and therapist. "They're so tired they don't feel like doing anything."

For those who aren't comfortable wearing the mask, Jamerson suggests they use it a while to condition themselves to it.

"Hold it over your face while watching TV or something and used to the feel of it so it's not as confined as having it strapped to your face. Then once you get used to it, you can wear it longer."

But the majority of people who use the CPAP machine are pleased with their results.

Jamerson said: "I've had people tell me 'After having the CPAP on, I'm getting rest now. I can get out and work in my yard and play with my kids. Before that, my social life wasn't very good.'"

Although the typical sleep apnea patient is overweight, male, and over the age of forty, sleep apnea affects both males and females of all ages and of ideal weight, the American Sleep Apnea Association reports.

Many people are also unaware of the health risks involved with people who have sleep apnea, Jamerson noted. "We were surprised at how many problems it can cause," Dana Copeland said. "You can have high blood pressure, heart disease, internal organ damage and a loss of memory."

There are three types of apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed (a combination of obstructive and central). Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)n is the most common and is what Copeland has.

Jamerson admitted the best and most common treatment is the mask and the CPAP machine.

"Once on the CPAP, people feel better and some even lose weight," Jamerson said. They're memory will be better, their concentration, too, and they're not as cranky."

It's true the Copeland household would be seeing a lot more restless nights without the CPAP, the Sikeston couple agreed. And as good as Copeland is feeling now, he wouldn't trade his mask for anything -- even it does make him look like an elephant.

"Which is more important?" Copeland asked. "Worrying about what I look like (in the mask) versus how much better I feel now?"