Treatment For Sleep Apnea Can Be Life-Changing
Many success stories at
Genesis sleep centers
Steven Johnson would fall asleep in the
chair while receiving chemotherapy, only
to have the nurses wake him because he
would briefly stop breathing.
Johnson suspected he had sleep apnea,
but at the time, he had more immediate
health concerns: He was fighting to
survive Stage 4 lymphoma. Treatment for
sleep apnea didn’t seem a high priority.
“The cancer medications would put me
to sleep. I would stop breathing for a few
seconds, and the nurses would wake me
up. They timed me at 35 seconds
between breaths,” says Johnson of
Last October, with his cancer in remission
and a desire to improve his health,
Johnson decided to address his sleep
problem. He went for an overnight sleep
study at the Genesis Sleep Disorders
Center in Davenport, where he slept in a
newly remodeled room on a comfortable
Sleep Number bed.
After 1 hour and 22 minutes of monitored
sleep, staff awoke him to confirm that
sleep apnea had interrupted his sleep
42 times. He was put on a continuous
positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine
for the rest of the night, and a titration
study was begun to determine the
optimal air pressure he would need.
“I had the remaining five hours of sleep
on the CPAP machine and woke up
feeling much better,” Johnson says.
“Now, I use a CPAP machine at home
every night. I wake up easily in the
morning and feel more energetic. I no
longer take naps after work or fall asleep
in the chair on weekends. The difference
has been life-changing. I feel so much
Uncovering sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the
muscles in the back of the throat relax
and momentarily close off the airways.This lowers the level of oxygen in the
blood. The brain senses this decrease
and briefly rouses the person from sleep
so the airways reopen.
This awakening is usually so brief that a
person doesn’t remember it. Breathing
resumes, possibly with a snort. This
pattern can repeat itself 10 times or more
each hour all night, making it difficult to
reach the deep, restful phases of sleep.
That combination of disturbed sleep and
lack of oxygen leads to serious health
complications -- from high blood
pressure, heart disease and stroke to
depression and memory problems. The
disorder affects more than 18 million
Americans and frequently goes
Now, Johnson wishes he had been
tested sooner. “Going through the sleep
test was easy, and so is using a CPAP
machine,” he says.
Recently, he came in for a follow-up
appointment with sleep specialist Akshay
Mahadevia, M.D., who wasn’t surprised
to hear his patient’s happy report.
The CPAP machine has a mask that fits
over the nose and/or mouth and gently
blows air into the airway to help keep it
open during sleep.
“Many patients like Steve come back to
say that CPAP treatment has made a
night and day difference or that their
whole life has changed,” says
Dr. Mahadevia, a pulmonologist and
board-certified sleep specialist. “There
are tangible benefits, where Steve can
actually feel more energy. There are also
the intangible benefits he doesn’t feel,
like improving his cardiovascular health.”
Sleep apnea decreases oxygen levels,
elevates blood pressure and increases
circulatory problems that can cause stroke
or heart disease.
“If you think you have sleep apnea -- if
you snore very loud, if you have no
energy, if you’re falling asleep when you
shouldn’t -- it’s a good idea to get it
checked out for two reasons,”
Dr. Mahadevia says.
“First, we have more treatment options
than we did two decades ago and can
successfully treat over 90 percent of
people with sleep apnea. Second,
research clearly shows that sleep apnea
affects your cardiovascular system... your
memory... your neurological function.
There’s a connection between sleep
apnea and heart failure and arrhythmia.
We know sleep apnea affects blood sugar
and diabetes. It’s so much more than
snoring or feeling tired. There are serious
CPAP therapy has many benefits but
compliance is important. Patients who
have problems adjusting to their CPAP
machine should ask for assistance.
“A lot of times, it takes education and
persistence,” Dr. Mahadevia says.
“People may try one mask and not like it,
so they put it away in a closet. We can
find an alternative to help if they say, ‘I
don’t like this mask, but what else can I
do to make my apnea better?’“
Sleep apnea is reversible and often
connected with being overweight. “Once
you treat their sleep apnea, people have
more energy and lose weight. I have
quite a few patients who lost 50, 60, 70
pounds, and their apnea improved to the
point they didn’t need to use the CPAP
Johnson concludes: “After you survive
cancer, you look for opportunities that
create positives rather than negatives in
your life. The rewards of treating my sleep
apnea have been well worth it.”