Sleep Apnea, Pt. 2: The not-so silent killer

You've probably heard the joke, "Why do black widow spiders kill their males after mating? To stop the snoring before it starts."

If you snore, chances are you've heard them all and while the jokes are funny, snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, a sometimes deadly condition.

Earlier, we introduced you to one of our young producers, whose dad died from sleep apnea when he was just 34 years old.

Tonight we go back to Memorial Hospital's Sleep Disorder Center in South Bend to see whether Joel needs to worry about going to sleep at night.

A montage of pictures are most of the memories Joel has of his father. He says his life took a drastic turn when he was very young. "When I was four my father passed away from sleep apnea."

While Joel's dad was a big man, which can contribute to sleep apnea, Joel himself has snored loudly since kindergarten, another sign of sleep apnea. "Ever since I was young my mom told me I sounded just like him when sleeping, snoring, really heavy breathing."

Doctors were concerned enough to remove Joel's tonsils and adenoids when he was just seven years old, but he still snores loudly and is tired throughout the day, another symptom. So Joel decided it was time to get some answers.

He went to the Memorial Hospital Sleep Disorders Center to have a sleep study.

Technologist David Ford spent about 45 minutes wiring Joel up to leads that will help him follow Joel's sleep pattern and heart, lung and brain activity throughout the night.

David says, "We'll be looking at how deep a sleep he is in, what is happening in different stages of sleep. We're looking for everything from seizures to breathing issues to heart issues."

With Joel hooked up and in bed, David goes to his post to watch Joel.

For the next several hours we see Joel rolling from his side to his back and snoring, quietly at first, but as morning nears his snoring gets a lot louder.

Joel went to the sleep center at about 7 o'clock at night and his sleep study ended about 6:30 a.m., just in time to get back to produce the noon show and an evening newscast.

It took roughly a week to get the results and Joel's doctor, also NewsCenter 16's Ask the Doctor, Rob Riley, gave Joel the news.

Dr. Rob tells Joel, "It took a long time for you to get to sleep, it was over 45 minutes from the time they actually turned the light off and everything until you actually went to sleep. And you also wake up fairly often. According to the study you woke up 17 times during the course of the night, about a third of the time."

So Joel doesn't sleep well, but does he have the apnea that took his father away from him when he was just four years old?

Dr. Rob is able to give Joel some good news.

"To be able to tell Joel he doesn't have that is very important and probably the most important thing we got out of this study," he says.

Joel says the fear that has surrounded him and his family for years is now lifted. "That's a huge weight off my shoulders because that's the one thing I was worried about, my mom was worried about because I sound a lot like my dad when I'm sleeping."

While 40 percent of Americans suffer from sleep apnea, as a busy news producer working weird shifts, Joel suffers from what many of us do -- poor sleep habits. Our sleep cycle is simply out of rhythm. Doctors call it sleep hygiene and Dr. Rob says as difficult as it may be, there is a solution.

"The most important thing is to get into a regular cycle, going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends, even when on vacation."

Joel admits his shift makes getting a normal sleep cycle a problem. "When you're working the late shift and then switching over to the morning shift and working a 12 hour day it can get up and down versus my sleep cycle."

But since working the odd shifts of a news producer is his reality, Joel says he's going to give it a try. "I'm going to try as much as I can, maybe wake up a little earlier to mimic the times I wake up throughout the week when I have to come into work early."

He probably won't be sleeping like a baby, but he isn't going to suffer the same fate as his father which is very positive news. Now armed with a plan, Joel is hoping better sleep habits will help him get a better night's sleep as he deals with the yo-yo hours of a news producer.

And as one of the anchor's who get their cues from Joel during our newscasts I can tell you he never seems to miss a beat. Let's just hope he starts getting a better night's rest.

If you have symptoms like Joel and aren't sure whether you might be a candidate for a sleep study there is a test you can take online through Memorial Hospitals by clicking here.

For all parents, because childhood obesity is growing, so is sleep apnea among children. Memorial does sleep studies on them, as well.

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