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Inside the Story: Sleep apnea

A CPAP machine is seen in this undated photo.

Watching someone sleep may not sound exciting, but everything involved in a sleep study is at the very least interesting.

Pulmonologist Dr. Michael Lucia ordered one for me after a recent exam showed I was at a high risk of having sleep apnea. The sleep disorder is defined by blockages in the airway that cause a patient to stop breathing several times during the night.

I was ordered a split sleep study, where for the first two hours I'm closely monitored by an ungodly amount of wires and sensors. If I have a certain amount of awakenings or breathing stoppages, I'll be hooked up to a CPAP machine.

I'm fitted beforehand, in case I do need the CPAP, and that's exactly what happened. I found out just how many breathing stoppages I had in my following visit with Dr. Lucia a few days later.

"You had more than 40 episodes an hour during that two-hour period. That means you stopped breathing, or partially stopped breathing with the airway collapsed behind your tongue. You're choking," said Lucia.

For years, I've blamed being tired all the time to a busy family life and an alarm clock that's being going off at 3 a.m. for the better part of two decades. Although that may be a big part of it, Dr. Lucia says sleep apnea has compounded the problem severely.

"A lot of what you're perceiving as stress and fatigue from that stress and a busy lifestyle because you've never had restorative sleep and you haven't for years."

For decades, Americans have suffered through many of the consequences associated with sleep apnea such as heart disease, brain disorders and obesity, without knowing the sleep disorder may be the root of their problem.

In fact, an estimated 70 to 80 percent of all sleep apnea cases go undiagnosed. However, there's been a push by the CDC to bring the problem out from under the dark of night, and more patients are giving in to wearing that awkward face mask to improve their overall health.

"CPAP is becoming so common place, so many people have it, it's become a lot less of a problem to get people recognized and treated and diagnosed. I have sleep patients that tell me they will never sleep without it again," said Lucia.

Only time will tell if that will be the case with me.

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