Frank Riddle was always tired. He could hardly get behind the wheel of his car without getting sleepy. He habitually inhaled his lunch so he could sleep on his break at work. And once when he was talking to a co-worker, he fell asleep mid-sentence. Then in March, that all began to change.
Now he sleeps soundly, he has more energy and the sinus headaches to which he used to awake are gone.
Riddle suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that once caused him to stop breathing an average of 114 times a night, sometimes for more than a minute at a time. His body wasn't getting enough oxygen and he never achieved deep sleep. It took him months of prodding from his wife and co-workers before he finally decided to go to his doctor, he said.
More than 12 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea and an estimated 10 million are undiagnosed, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association. The disorder is defined by stopped breathing for at least 10 seconds at a time, sometimes more than 300 times a night. People with the disorder generally fail to get a good night's sleep, because they wake up throughout the night in order to breathe. There are three main types of sleep apnea, caused by either a blocked airway, the brain failing to give a signal to breathe or a combination of both.
Common symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness, restless sleep, morning headaches, loss of energy, trouble concentrating, forgetfulness and loud, heavy snoring. Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to hypertension, coronary artery disease, stroke, psychiatric problems, cognitive dysfunction, memory loss and death, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Locally, at least 300 people with the condition have contact with G& G Medical, Inc., said Kim Willems, registered nurse and manager of the company. G&G Medical sells "Continuous Positive Airway Pressure" or CPAP machines that keep air passages open. The company also offers education and support to patients.
An initial test with a soft clothespin-like device attached to Riddle's thumb indicated his average blood oxygen level was 77 percent, when the ideal is 90 percent, Willems said. That night, Riddle's oxygen dipped to as low as 56 percent, according to his medical report.
Although mild cases can be treated with behavioral changes such as sleeping on one's side, Riddle's case was severe enough for doctors to recommend a CPAP machine with additional oxygen.
"He's been running on empty for a long time," Willems said.
Although the lunchbox-sized machine makes some noise, Riddle said it's nothing compared to the snoring he used to emit each night. His wife Mickey slept with earplugs when they were first married, but nothing could mask the violent vibrations caused by his labored breathing. Riddle said he is thankful that his wife had been so patient before, but life is much better for both of them, now that he gets enough oxygen every night.
Riddle said it's important to educate people about the disorder.
"I'd probably still be going on the same as before except that I heard about (the disorder)," he said.