Feature Archive

Sound Sleep

Loud snoring might be a symptom of sleep apnea.

WebMD Feature

Los Angeles resident Andrew Altenberg hasn't slept well since the Reagan administration, but his sleepless nights have nothing to do with '80s nostalgia. For over a decade, he's been waking up several times a night for no apparent reason and spending most mornings in a cranky haze.

"I'd go to work and have to remind myself to be extra nice or just keep my mouth shut for the first few hours because I'd be afraid to say something rude," Altenberg says.

Altenberg followed this routine until he entered into a serious relationship. His partner was concerned about his odd snoring pattern. Soon thereafter, Altenberg visited an ear, nose, and throat specialist and found out his crabby mornings were not an attitude problem but a case of sleep apnea.

Don't Hold Your Breath

Sleep apnea is characterized by breathing pauses, or apneic events, caused by an obstruction in the airway, generally at the base of the soft palate or lining of the neck. These events tend to last from 10 to 40 seconds, leaving sufferers gasping for air. Jerrod Kram, M.D., Medical Director of the California Center for Sleep Disorders in Oakland, Calif., commonly sees patients who stop breathing for up to a minute.

"The longest that I've ever seen was three minutes," Kram said. "With patients like that, you can actually see their complexion change, and they tend to briefly wake up when they eventually take a breath."