Your Sleep Apnea Questions, Answered

Don’t let misconceptions stand between you and healthy, restful Zs.

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WE TALK ABOUT the questions that keep people up at night with Dr. B. Tucker Woodson, director of the Froedtert Hospital/Medical College of Wisconsin sleep disorders program.


How has the diagnosis of sleep apnea changed over time? 

A lot of the big changes here come from increased awareness. Because people are aware of sleep apnea and its symptoms, they go to their primary care provider if they have sleep issues. Their PCP can order a non-invasive home breathing test in lieu of an on-site sleep study. 

Are there any strategies people can use to tell the difference between minor sleep issues and disorders like sleep apnea that need to be treated? 

Honestly, telling between the two, if a person has only mild sleep symptoms, can be quite difficult. Looking to see if they have associated medical conditions can help. It is usually the comorbidities associated with sleep apnea, like atrial fibrillation or difficult-to-control diabetes, that bring patients with minor sleep symptoms to our attention. 

What are some of the other long-term health effects of untreated sleep apnea? 

Increased risk for cardiovascular disease, like stroke and blood pressure control issues, is the most common. We also see more obesity and metabolic dysfunction in sleep apnea patients. Also, there are psychological effects and quality-of-life issues that crop up. People who are tired feel bad; treating that in and of itself is important. 

What are some common misconceptions about sleep apnea? 

A major misconception is that it’s obesity that causes it. Actually, the main risk factor is facial structure, although obesity does make apnea worse. People also do not understand that one of the biggest risk factors is significant snoring and moving during the night. If you wake up and it looks like a tornado hit your bed, something might be wrong. 

Sleep Kills

Chad Walhood found out he had sleep apnea two years ago, when he was 34. This is his story.

BEFORE I WAS DIAGNOSED, I sleepwalked constantly and fell asleep while driving, seriously disrupting my life and work as a traveling media salesperson. Mostly because I did not think someone as young as me could have the condition, I suffered for 10 years before getting help.

I am so glad I finally did. My sleep doctor quickly found, with the help of a machine I took home, that I was waking up almost 100 times every night. If I had let the disease progress any further, I might be dead; my blood pressure was rising, and I still am left with noticeable heart damage. I now sleep like a baby because of my CPAP machine and tell everyone I know that they should get professional help with any sleep issues. It really is life or death.


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s May issue. 

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Since interning for the magazine in spring of 2017, Anna has contributed to both the print publication and website. She has covered topics from women in the workplace to communal gardens and also writes guides to life in Milwaukee. Outside of writing for the magazine, Anna is going back to school at UW-Milwaukee to work towards a career in genetic counseling.