1. An up-close look at apnea

    If just the thought of losing your breath as you sleep is frightening, you should see what it looks like when it really happens.

    This video of a man with sleep apnea was posted on the Web site of the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

    In the video, the man stops breathing for 40 seconds in his sleep. But what's even more frightening is what you don't see: He also operates heavy machinery for a living--- and his apnea has left him tired at work.

    This can't end well.

    And this video shows just one apnea incident -- but patients who have the condition can stop breathing dozens and even hundreds of times each night, depriving the heart and brain of essential oxygen.

    One new study finds women who battle the condition have a 350 percent higher risk of dying of heart disease -- and other studies have found similar risks for men. Along with heart problems, apnea has been linked to dementia, stroke, diabetes and more -- with another new study showing how apnea can even boost your risk of sudden deafness by nearly 50 percent.

    In the short term, some apnea patients use continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP machines -- uncomfortable oxygen masks that come with risks of their own, and that's if you can even manage to keep them on all night.

    In one study, only two out of 35 patients could tolerate them long enough to see a benefit.

    But even if you can handle wearing an oxygen mask all night, it's not a permanent solution.

    In many cases, apnea is caused by obesity -- so if you're overweight and your spouse has seen you lose your breath in the night, drop those extra pounds ASAP and chances are you won't need CPAP.

    And if you've gotten too big over the years and find yourself not as rested in the morning as you used to be, you might have the condition, too. Other warning signs to watch for: headaches, waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat, frequent nighttime bathroom trips and mood changes.

    A night in a sleep clinic can help you figure it out -- but in the meantime, lose the weight anyway. Even if it's not causing sleep apnea -- yet -- it's not doing you any favors.

  2. Fix your apnea, heal your heart

    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.

  3. Dog-gone asthma!

    But the best trick of all comes naturally: Pets can chase away asthma and allergies the way a guard dog can scare off burglars -- and it doesn't take a loud bark or a lot of teeth.
  4. Apnea in new heart risk link

    But now, researchers say that in addition to leaving you gasping for air in the night, sleep apnea could also be responsible for serious blood vessel abnormalities -- problems that can actually steal blood right from your heart.

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