Snoring loudly, gasping for air, and feeling tired after a full night of sleep can be signs of sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a serious sleeping disorder that causes a person to repeatedly pause in breathing while sleeping. Breathing may stop for a few seconds or longer. During a sleep study, if pauses in breathing occur five or more times an hour, then the diagnosis of sleep apnea is confirmed. Sleep apnea can vary in severity. There is mild, moderate, and severe sleep apnea and this is related to how many pauses are found to occur in an hour. If you have more than 30 pauses per hour, this is considered severe sleep apnea.  Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems: heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, memory issues, and other problems. It can also affect your personal life: depression, falling asleep at work, car accidents caused by sleepiness, irritability, and others issues. About half of adults with sleep apnea don’t even know they have it. Some people have hypersomnia during the day but not everyone presents with this that has apnea. Some signs of sleep apnea include loud snoring (but not always), a thick neck, an under bite, big tonsils, daytime sleepiness, or being overweight.

Sleep Studies

There are two kinds of sleep studies offered by Perham Health; an in-lab sleep study, called a polysomnography, is where you come in and stay overnight at the hospital. This in-lab sleep study is more in depth and evaluates for all fragmenting factors of sleep including apnea, periodic limb movement, as well as intrinsic sleep issues. Intrinsic sleep issues are where your brain cannot shut off and continuously pulls you from deep into lighter sleep stages. This study helps to evaluate all of these fragmenting factors which can contribute to poor sleep quality and exacerbate hypersomnia. A home sleep study is a device in which you can take home and sleep with. This study only shows whether you have apnea or not. It is a device which is strapped on the wrist and your finger is placed into a probe to help evaluate for apnea, as well as your oxygenation while sleeping.

Tom’s Story of Sleep Apnea

Tom’s wife was more bothered by his sleep apnea then he was. She complained that his loud snoring was keeping her up at night. Tom wondered if it was sleep apnea. Tom’s dad suffered from sleep apnea for years and was now having memory issues. Knowing that there is a connection between memory problems and sleep apnea, Tom was motivated to find out if he had it so he made an appointment with his primary care provider. After discussing Tom’s symptoms and family history, Tom was advised to get a sleep consultation at Perham Health’s sleep clinic.

As a Sanford Sleep Medicine Physician Assistant, I come to Perham once a month to see patients in consultation to determine their sleep issues and appropriate treatment plans. When setting up the appointment, I talked with both Tom and his wife to learn more about what was happening at night. Tom’s wife was able to share what she was seeing and hearing. We discussed the sleep study process and what it entailed. When Tom showed up at Perham Health around 8 p.m. for his sleep study, the sleep technician explained what would happen while she started the hook up process. He had wires placed on his head which help to evaluate which stage of sleep he is in, and wires to the extremities to evaluate if he had limb movements which may cause him to not be able to achieve deeper sleep.

The results of the sleep study showed that Tom did indeed have mild sleep apnea and that he could benefit from using a CPAP machine. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine sends a continuous flow of oxygen to the mouth and nose while a person is sleeping. This keeps the airway open and helps a person breathe normally. A durable medical equipment company, such as Sanford Health HealthCare Accessories, met with him to explain how his CPAP machine worked. They also got him fitted for a CPAP mask that he tolerated and felt comfortable using.

It’s now a year since he got his CPAP machine and he and his wife are sleeping better than ever. “I no longer snore, rarely nap, and I just feel better. It’s great to not snore anymore,” he said. He has also noticed that he can exercise harder and longer. His advice to others, “Don’t wait. I waited too long and I feel bad about all the years I inconvenienced my wife with my loud snoring, and I think about the damage I did to my health by not taking care of it sooner.”

If you have concerns about your sleep it is important to discuss this further with your primary care provider and ask for a sleep medicine referral. It is always important to remember that a sleep study can be a good tool which can be utilized to help improve overall sleep.

Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

Here are some of my tips for getting a good night’s rest:

  • Turn off all electronics 30 minutes before bed – TV, phone, computer
  • Don’t drink anything with caffeine at least 6 hours before bed
  • Make sure your room is dark as it allows you to get into deeper more restorative sleep.
  • Set a routine that you follow every night like reading a book. That helps condition your brain to know when your bedtime should be due to repetition of a nightly routine prior to bed.

If you think you have sleep apnea or are having trouble sleeping, see your provider to discuss if a sleep study is right for you. Click here to learn more about sleep medicine at Perham Health.


Jill Hennessy, PA-C
Perham Health Sleep Medicine