When Cathy Hopkins woke up in the morning, the only thing she thought about was going back to sleep. No matter how many hours she slept, the self-described "world-class snorer" spent her days awake without energy and in a listless haze, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.
Because she worked 50 to 60 hours a week as a nurse, Hopkins said she assumed her condition was the result of normal fatigue. That was until she went on a vacation with a friend last fall.
"My friend told me that there were times during the night [while asleep] when I would shake so violently I would fall out of the bed. That's when I knew I had a medical problem," Hopkins said.
Hopkins got help at Western Medical Center's Sleep Disorders Center in Anaheim, where she was diagnosed with sleep apnea. The center, which has recently refurbished its sleep analysis rooms with $50,000 in new equipment, monitors patients as they sleep, allowing doctors to analyze a person's breathing, brain waves and limb twitches.
Debbie Strangio, the director of the sleep center, said she is visited by 14 to 16 people a week who have problems ranging from sleep apnea to narcolepsy, a condition that causes people to fall asleep at any time.
While loud snoring is often thought of as being funny--unless you are trying to sleep nearby--snoring may be a symptom of sleep apnea, a potentially serious medical condition in which one temporarily stops breathing. It affects 18 million Americans, Strangio said.
"A lot of the people who come in here are dragged in by bed partners who are annoyed with jackhammer loud snoring, but sleep apnea is a real problem," Strangio said. "People with sleep apnea actually hold their breath for as long as 78 seconds, which decreases oxygen levels in the blood, and can lead to heart attacks, high blood pressure or strokes."
Dr. Bertrand de Silva, associate medical director of the sleep center, said sleep apnea, along with other disorders, can have a large effect on a person's life.
"Snoring can impact a relationship with a bed partner, and people who sleep all the time to make up for lost sleep find personal relationships difficult to maintain," he said.
Hopkins agrees, and said that since she started using a special mask at night that prevents her from snoring and keeps her airway open, her life has changed.
"I wake up 10 to 15 minutes before my alarm clock now, and with energy. It's amazing," Hopkins said.