A few times every week, when I bring up the possibility of obstructive sleep apnea, a patient will confidently say to me, "I know I don’t have sleep apnea." Nine out of ten times, a sleep study reveals that the person does have sleep apnea.
A recent study presented at this year’s annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies revealed that of all people who were referred for excessive sleepiness, 54% of normal weight people were found to have obstructive sleep apnea. Of these normal weight people with sleep apnea, 54% were found to have moderate to severe levels.
I’ve been saying for years that young, thin people who don’t snore can have significant obstructive sleep apnea, but it seems like most doctors and lay people still think that only an overweight, snoring man with a big neck can have sleep apnea. Yes, this is the extreme end of the spectrum, but since sleep apnea is an anatomically small jaw problem, you can have this even when you’re young and thin. Later on, you’ll be more likely to gain weight and fit the classic profile, but only after some of the complications of untreated sleep apnea have set in.
One major reason for this continued myth is that we continue to have studies showing that heavier people are more likely to have sleep apnea. But this doesn’t mean that all thin people don’t. If you’re chronically tired and you don’t have a satisfactory answer for your fatigue, at least think about sleep apnea.