While most of us might shrug off chronic fatigue as simply a consequence of the busy and hectic lives we lead, it might in fact be a symptom of something more serious, especially if you or someone you know snores heavily when they sleep. This is because fatigue and snoring can be signs of a serious disorder called sleep apnea, which can impede normal breathing patterns when we are asleep and can lead to decreased oxygen levels in our blood. These in turn can result in hypertension, heart disease, chronic fatigue, memory loss, and depression.

The National Sleep Foundation estimates that over 18 million adults suffer from sleep apnea, and many do not even realize it. And while it can affect anyone at any age, certain demographic groups are particularly predisposed to the disorder, especially overweight men who are over the age of 40.

There are three main types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form and occurs when the soft tissue in the back of our throats collapses and blocks the passage of air. Central sleep apnea results from the brains failure to signal the muscles to breathe. Mixed apnea is a combination of the two.

Though OSA is more common, all three are characterized by a repeated stoppage of breathing throughout the night, sometimes as often as one hundred times and for durations of over one minute. When apnea occurs, the brain arouses a person in order to get them to start breathing again. Because regular sleep patterns are thus compromised, people suffering from apnea are often severely fatigued, which in turn can impair judgment and coordination, especially when operating heavy machinery like their cars.

The good news is that OSA is treatable, with the simplest solution being a minor change in the position in which you sleep, i.e., on your side and not on your back (sleeping on your back tends to increase the occurrence of OSA). Also, changes in lifestyle have been known to help, including the reduction or elimination of alcohol consumption, loss of weight, and cessation of smoking.

For more serious cases there are more involved treatments, which include medication, breathing devices, and even surgery. If you have any questions or concerns, ask your physician or seek the advice of a sleep specialist. For more information, check out the website for the National Sleep Foundation as well as the American Sleep Apnea Association.

And give your snoring or chronic fatigue the attention they deserve. Take the time to consider the seriousness of it all. Not only will sleep better, and by extension feel better, but it could very well save your life.