Earlier this summer, my 7 year old son and I went camping to a father-son camp in the Adirondacks for 3 nights. I had a fantastic time bonding with my son, as well as being able to participate in all the various camp activities such as rock climbing, fishing, hiking, and rifle shooting. The reason why I hated it was that we were bunked together with 4 other families in one cabin, and there were two very loud adult snorers who kept me up all night. Even when I go camping in the woods, sleeping in tents, it’s almost routine that our adult camp-mate next to us will snore like a bear. I once slept overnight volunteering at a homeless shelter—it sounded like a room full of different sized chainsaws.
People joke with me that I think everyone has obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). I disagree, stating that not everyone has sleep apnea. But almost everyone I come into contact with seems to snore or have major sleep issues. I can honestly say with confidence that almost everyone does has a sleep-breathing problem, for the reasons I continue to mention in my book, blogs and podcasts (modern humans’ shrinking faces and jaws leading to airway crowding).
The significance of this observation was made more clear in a recent study and editorial in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. The authors describe a 12x increase in new cases of obstructive sleep apnea between 1990 to 1998 (108,000 to more than 1.3 million). In 2010, 2.7 million patients with sleep apnea were seen. They estimate that almost 30 million people have OSA, which is about 12% of the US population. If you include upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS), it’l likely double or triple that figure.
The estimated cost of diagnosing and treating OSA in 2015 was $12.4 billion, with 50% for positive airway pressure and oral appliance therapy, and 47% for surgical treatments. About 7% were for doctors’ office visits and diagnostic tests. Furthermore, the authors estimate that the cost burden of undiagnosed OSA in the US was almost $150 billion: $86 billion due to lost productivity and missed work, $30 billion due to increased risk of medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and depression, $26 billion from motor vehicle accidents, and $6.5 billion due to workplace accidents. Finally they estimated that the health care system will require $49 billion to diagnose and treat every American with OSA. However, the cost savings was projected to be over $100 billion.
Knowing the associated risks of untreated OSA, I have approached many of my friends or acquaintances who snore loudly. They all appreciate the advice, but for the most past, rarely does anyone go to their doctor to get checked for sleep apnea. Even when they do mention this to their doctor, the usual reply is, “you’re too thin to have sleep apnea.” This comment is frequently made despite overwhelming studies showing that even young, thin men and women who don’t snore can have severe OSA.
Sadly, it’s not until years later, when the person or a friend has either a major car accident due to falling asleep, or suffer a heart attack or a stroke, before they realize it’s time to get checked for sleep apnea. The good news is that in the vast majority of cases, treatment significantly improves not only one’s quality of life, but also various health measures such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
If you have a loved one, friend or an acquaintance that you know snores heavily, approach them at the right time and try to get them tested and treated for obstructive sleep apnea. You may end up saving his or her life.
Do you have a friend or family member that snores heavily and you know likely has sleep apnea? If so, have you tried to get this person to see a doctor about it? What was their response?