John Chamberlin, 55, an electrical engineer for City Utilities, started feeling groggy and tired during the day, and he thought it was just a side effect of getting older.

Todd Smith, a 43-year-old football coach and biology teacher at Republic High School, said his wife noticed he frequently stopped breathing for most of a minute during sleep — before he resumed snoring.

When Peggy Fender, 52, a truck driver who lives in the Henry County town of Tightwad, started waking up with a headache every morning, she assumed it came from her deafening snoring that made her husband threaten to sleep in the spare bedroom.

All of them have sleep apnea, a disorder that has serious effects far beyond the amusing or annoying act of snoring. All of them, however, say they are having quieter nights and livelier days thanks to a machine that helps keep their airways open as they sleep.

 

What happens

In sleep apnea, the muscles in the back of the throat relax during sleep, and the upper airway collapses repeatedly through the night, cutting off breathing for 10 seconds and often much longer, said Terry Yarnell, director of neurological services and the Sleep Disorders Center at St. John’s Hospital. With no air reaching the lungs, oxygen level and heart rate fall, until the brain forces the body to awaken slightly — with a snore or a gasp. After the event, heart rate accelerates, pumping more blood that’s carrying less oxygen.