TUESDAY, May 29 (HealthDay News) -- Millions of Americans plod through each day exhausted. Not because they're working too hard, over-exercising or not taking enough vitamins.
The real reason, experts say, is because they unknowingly have a sleep disorder.
As many as 18 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea, according to the National Sleep Foundation. But researchers estimate that as many as 90 percent of them don't know they have it.
Sleep apnea causes people's airways to become blocked while they sleep, depriving them of the oxygen the body needs.
Many people with sleep apnea are chronic snorers. Their partners probably complain of loud snoring during the night, which may or may not be accompanied by gasping or choking sounds. People with sleep apnea are often startled awake many times during the night as the body becomes starved of oxygen. Often, though, people don't even realize that they've briefly woken up.
However, it's these numerous interruptions in sleep, though brief, that can cause severe daytime sleepiness.
"It's such a slow process that it can go on for years," said Dr. Joyce Walsleben, an associate professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City. "People think, 'Oh, I'm older, it's normal not to be as peppy,' and they blow off their symptoms."
Sleep apnea can be particularly difficult to uncover in women, she said.
"Unfortunately, women don't snore as much," Walsleben said. "They tend to report vague symptoms of not feeling well or having a sense of depression or anxiety."
The effects of too little sleep, however, can go beyond feeling tired during the day.
"Besides a lack of energy and the byproducts of too little sleep, sleep apnea can increase your risk of a car accident by as much as 15 times the normal risk," said Dr. Steven Park, an integrative sleep surgeon at Mo
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