TYLER (KYTX) - 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, a disease that can lead to other serious health problems.
It's an issue lots of East Texans deal with every time their bodies relax to go to sleep.
"In sleep apnea, it is as if the muscles around the throat relax too much. So the throat ends up collapsing and it blocks off your breathing," says UT Health Sleep Expert, Dr. James Stocks.
Dr. Stocks suffers from sleep apnea, just like his patients.
"My heart attack was 8 years ago, but I didn't find out I had sleep apnea until about a year and a half ago," Stocks says.
He believes the two are related, since the stress sleep apnea puts on your body can result in other serious conditions.
"It can lead to a heart attack, stroke, it can lead to certain vascular problems, sleepiness resulting in car accidents, poor performance in school or work," he says.
It is for all those reasons patient Dexter Jones takes his sleep apnea seriously.
"When I would wake up, I was exhausted, I was sluggish and I would have a headache," Jones says.
Jones now follows recommendations from the American College of Physicians and uses a C-PAP machine, which stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.
The machine sits right next to your bed. A tube plugs into it and runs into a mask. When you turn the machine on, air (not oxygen) flows through your airway, helping you breathe.
"When I wake up I feel rested, I am more energetic, I am more alert, and my headaches are gone," Jones says.
The other recommendation is weight loss.
"When you gain weight, especially in the belly, that seems to result in the brain allowing the throat to relax more when you're lying down," Dr. Stocks says.
It may take a lot of weight loss to make your sleep apnea go away, but Jones says it's important to try.
"It can save your life."
For more information about sleep disorders, click here: http://www.uthealth.org/?s=sleep