Ernie Friesen used to have trouble keeping his eyes open to read a magazine.
"It was just like, I have to crash, I have to lay down somewhere," he said.
Doctors diagnosed Friesen with mild sleep apnea. The 57-year-old would stop breathing an average of 14 times an hour.
Friesen's doctor enrolled him in a first-of-its kind sleep study for the millions of Americans with mild to moderate sleep apnea. Researchers followed 239 patients-- some wearing CPAP masks-- which use mild air pressure to keep airways open. Others had fake masks. Those with the real CPAP felt much more awake during the day.
"We now have evidence that CPAP therapy will definitely improve your overall function, your quality of life and your ability to remain awake during the day," said Dr. Harly Greenburg of the LIJ Sleep Disorder Center.
Doctors usually prescribe CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, for severe sleep apnea. Research shows it can lower blood pressure and the risk of diabetes and it helps with cardiovascular problems. Patients have complained the masks are bulky and noisy, but that's changing.
"The devices have improved as technology has improved. They've become smaller, quieter; the masks have become more comfortable," Greenburg said.
Friesen says the treatment is changing his life.
"In the daytime, I noticed a difference that I wasn't tired anymore. I could get right through the day," Friesen said.
And for the first time in years, he's getting a good night's sleep.
There are other treatments for sleep apnea including dental appliances, upper airway surgery and nasal devices.
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