sleeping

  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. Freeze your head

    If you're having trouble sleeping, maybe you just need to chill out.

    Literally.

    You probably know all about the wonders of the magical "cool spot" on your pillow (and if you don't, try looking for it tonight). But now, researchers are taking the concept a step further. They've created a water-powered nightcap that can keep your head cool all night long.

    It might just be able to help insomniacs sleep better than ever.

    Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recruited a dozen patients who suffer from primary insomnia, a sleep disorder not linked to drugs, substance abuse, other health problems, or anything else.

    The researchers also recruited a dozen normal sleepers to act as controls, and then let them all snooze away in a sleep lab for eight nights under different conditions: two nights without the cooling cap, two nights with the cooling cap at room temperature, two nights with a slight chill in the cap (72 degrees), and two nights with a nice cold cap (57 degrees).

    When the cap was set at that coolest temperature, the insomniacs were practically cured: It took them just 13 minutes to fall asleep on average.

    That's slightly faster than the 16 minutes needed by the normal sleepers.

    Better yet, the insomniacs spent 89 percent of their time in bed asleep, about the same as the healthy sleepers, and more time in slow-wave sleep -- or the kind of sleep we need to feel rested.

    Obviously, this was a small study and more research is needed before anyone can say for sure whether cooling caps are worth the time and trouble.

    But none of that should stop you from experimenting on your own at home -- so if you're having sleep problems, consider cooling your pillow.

    There are pillows for sale that you can fill with a layer of cold water to keep them cool through the night, but you can make your own economy version with a towel and a gel-based ice pack.

    Wrap the frozen pack into the towel, and slip it into your pillow.

    Whatever you do, avoid a frozen wet towel.

    It might help you get to sleep at first... but you'll wake up in the middle of the night with your head in a puddle.

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