Ever watch someone with sleep apnea? It's one of the most frightening -- and unforgettable -- things you'll ever see.

One minute, the sleeper is snoring away. The next, nothing.

At first, you might be thankful for the quiet -- until you realize the reason for that sudden silence: they're not breathing.

Someone with apnea can go through dozens of breathless bouts per night and never even realize it -- but in this case, what you don't know can not only hurt you... it can kill you, too.

Apnea has been linked to everything from sexual dysfunction and metabolic syndrome to diabetes and heart disease -- but now, researchers have confirmed that it's not too late for people already fighting that nightly battle.

The standard mainstream treatment for apnea is an oxygen mask called CPAP, for continuous positive airway pressure. In a new study, 86 patients with moderate to severe apnea were assigned to either the real CPAP mask or a sham treatment.

After three months, the volunteers took a one-month break... then switched places for another three months.

When they got the real CPAP, the volunteers saw drops in blood pressure and cholesterol levels -- including an average dip of nearly 20 points in dangerous triglycerides -- as well as better control of their blood sugar levels.

More importantly, they also lost weight -- and while most of the patients were battling metabolic syndrome at the start of the study, 13 percent no longer had the condition after the three months of CPAP, according to the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

But does all the credit go to that mask?

The researchers say they're not sure -- and I'm not either, because while CPAP can help get you through the night, the best way to beat apnea isn't with oxygen -- it's with lifestyle changes.

And it starts with losing some weight -- like the patients in this study managed to do. Studies have shown that even modest weight loss can end the apnea as well as slash your risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Lose that weight yourself, and you'll not only look and feel better than you have in years -- you'll sleep better, too.