Skip to Content

Don't Ignore the Snore

Know the risk factors, signs, and how VA can help

Getting a good night's sleep is one of the best things you can do for your health. As you sleep, your brain and body recover from everyday stresses. Healthy sleeping habits improve your memory, metabolism, immune system, as well as your ability to make decisions. Unfortunately, millions of Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, which can contribute to dangerous health conditions.

According to the National Institutes of Health, "Shortchanging yourself on sleep slows your thinking and reaction time, makes you irritable and increases your risk of injury. It may even decrease your resistance to infections, increase your risk of obesity, and increase your risk of heart disease."

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where your breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night's sleep, you may want to talk to your health care team about sleep apnea. If left untreated, sleep apnea can contribute to high blood pressure and increase your likelihood of stroke and heart attack.

Interrupted breathing

Sleep apnea causes your breath to stop or get very shallow while you sleep. These pauses can last anywhere between a few seconds to a minute or more. Normal breathing typically starts again, often with a loud snort or choking sound.

Different types of sleep apnea

There are different kinds of sleep apnea, but obstructive sleep apnea is the most common. It occurs when muscles in the back of your throat relax during sleep, which narrows your airway, preventing you from breathing.

Another type is central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn't send the correct signals to the muscles that control your breathing. In both cases, not enough air gets into your lungs causing your blood oxygen level to drop.

Recognize the signs

Doctors can diagnose sleep apnea based on your medical and family history, a physical exam, and sleep study results. Often symptoms of both obstructive and central sleep apnea overlap, making it difficult to determine which type you have. Common signs that you could have sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring

  • Episodes in which you stop breathing while asleep

  • Gasping for air while asleep

  • Waking up with a dry mouth

  • Morning headaches

  • Difficulty staying asleep

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

Potential risk factors

Although sleep apnea can affect anyone, it occurs significantly more often in older men. Health factors that can increase your risk of developing sleep apnea include:

  • Obesity

  • Narrowed airway due to enlarged tonsils or adenoids

  • Family history of snoring and sleep apnea

  • Nasal congestion

  • Smoking

  • Alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers that relax your throat muscles

Treat and track your sleep with REVAMP

Sleep apnea is most commonly treated with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) breathing device. A CPAP machine uses gentle air pressure to hold your airway open and prevent your breathing from being interrupted. "People do not realize that this PAP machine revitalizes you. I cannot say any more than that because it is a life saver. This condition could get worse if it is not treated. I'm grateful that my doctors recommended this tool to me," said Army Veteran, Walter Broadnax.

Veterans enrolled in VA health care and receiving treatment from a VA sleep care team can ask their sleep provider about the REVAMP App. The app pairs with your PAP machine and allows you and your VA sleep care team to track your sleep data. Since the beginning of this year Veterans are able to logon to REVAMP using their Premium MyHealtheVet username and password. "I was easily able to complete sleep surveys and view the educational material. I was really impressed with [REVAMP] and how accessible it was," said Navy Veteran, Robert McGarry. REVAMP App for Veterans' helpful features include:

  • Sleep health questionnaires that assess your sleep symptoms

  • Videos and other educational materials about sleep apnea

  • Graphic display of wireless PAP data from your PAP unit

  • FAQs to help you troubleshoot your PAP treatment

  • Submitting requests for PAP supplies

  • Secure messaging with your sleep care team

Read More

REVAMP (VA Mobile)

What Are CPAP and Other Air Pressure Treatments? (Veterans Health Library)

VHA Talks: REVAMP (YouTube)

Path to Better Sleep - Sleep Apnea Fact Sheet (PDF)

Sleep Disorders: In Depth (NIH)

Updated September 10, 2019