The definition of sleep apnea, according to Medicinenet.com, is a disorder characterized by a reduction or pause of breathing (airflow) during sleep.
I was diagnosed with sleep apnea 15 years ago. This was before the doctors knew it was life threatening and they thought only men had the condition. But in my case, I realized it was life threatening when I was driving home from work one afternoon fully awake, but seconds later I found myself driving toward a mailbox on the other side of the road. Luckily, I pulled back onto the road before I ran into the mailbox and I was doubly lucky there were no other cars coming. I immediately turned on the radio, rolled down the windows and sang out loud to keep myself awake.
I blamed the episode on being tired from work or not getting enough sleep. However, what began as an isolated episode turned into a series of almost serious accidents. Reality struck when I saw my neighbor at a party one weekend and he said, "Hi, stuck up." I asked him what he meant by that. He said he had met me on the road a week ago and he waved but I didn't wave back. I said, "This may sound weird but I think I was sleeping." By his expression I realized how strange it must have sounded. The next morning I called my doctor.
My doctor referred me to a sleep specialist to determine whether I had sleep apnea. The strangest part of the entire visit was when the doctor asked me how many times I had fallen asleep while driving. When I told him three or four times a week he looked surprised and said, "Wow, that's a lot." At that point, I was thinking — can this guy help me?
To make a long story short, it was determined that I had sleep apnea and I was measured and set up with a CPAP machine. Anybody who uses this contraption will tell you that it is very uncomfortable. Basically, it's a machine that blows air through a hose that's hooked to a mask that is strapped over your nose. Air blows down your throat to open up the airways and, thus, provide you with a better night's sleep.