Sleep Apnea is when the breathing is obstructed during sleep. A short cessation of breathing, called an "apnea", occurs. Imagine constantly holding your breath every few seconds or minutes, each time for a few seconds. This isn't healthy when you are sleeping. Over time it can cause a heart attack. At the least it causes you to be tired during the day. It can cause you to fall asleep while driving, thus putting your life, as well as others', at risk by automobile accident. This is NO JOKE! I suffered from sleep apnea for several years as I gained weight. It isn't always due to being overweight though. Skinny people snore as well. It can be caused by excess flesh (fat) in the throat area, but also due to abnormally large tonsils and adenoids, or a deviated septum, or a combination thereof. My ENT (Ear Nose Throat doctor) wants to remove my tonsils, adenoids, and fix my slightly deviated septum. For now I opt to continue using a CPAP machine for sleeping, but my brother-in-law had his removed and was able to ditch his CPAP machine.
First, some words about how I diagnosed myself. I knew that I snored. My wife wouldn't let me forget it. I was also dead tired all the time and had that almost falling asleep thing when driving to work in the morning. Scary stuff. One telltale sign is frequent nighttime urination. I knew that being in my mid thirties I was a bit young to have a prostate problem. Also, when I got up to pee I really had to pee. It wasn't a false alarm. I researched, through my friend GOOGLE, that sleep apnea prevents one from entering REM sleep and that when you do not get enough REM sleep that your brain never sends your kidneys the signal to slow down urine production. Now, with all of this added up, I knew I had to get treated. One thing that scared me even more was that due to the terrible sleep I was getting for several years, I must have been doing other stuff in my sleep. Most nights when I would get up to go to the bathroom, I would then go to the couch to sleep the rest of the night. I sleep in shorts and a t-shirt - pretty much what I wear around the house. I don't do traditional pajamas. Anyway, one morning I wake up to find that I was wearing my t-shirt and shorts but my underwear was neatly folded on the top of the couch!! How did THAT happen? Then I knew I definitely had to be treated because I heard about people attacking their loved ones while "asleep" and I feared that in that state I might hurt my wife or child while acting out a dream when I did manage to enter REM sleep.
My sister-in-law use to work for a doctor and she lent me a zip drive looking device that attached to my nostrils with a head band and it measured your breathing. The resultant report showed a SERIOUS case of sleep apnea. I took my stories and the printed report to a nearby ENT and he immediately prescribed a CPAP machine. A CPAP means Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. Basically a blowing machine that has hoses and a face mask with headgear that you wear when sleeping. It blows air down your nostrils and creates a vacuum that keeps your moth closed and you breath through your nose. It prevents the throat from collapsing and the apnea's from occurring. It is awkward at first and freaky, but you learn to love it because you get real sleep, your partner can sleep without hearing you snore, and as long as you don't have a cold or allergy that blocks your sinuses your apnea is "cured" as long as you use the machine. Yes there is cleaning it and it can be a hassle, but it's worth it. Mine also has a non heated humidifier reservoir which adds moisture to the air. This is a necessity too. Some people use heated ones. That has to be cleaned regularly to prevent bacteria and making the blown air smell nasty. The reservoir unit is top rack dishwasher safe.
The bad thing about relying on the machine is that it's a minor hassle to own, it will eventually burn out and need replacement, you have to carry it with you when you travel, and forget trying to sleep on an airplane. Some people figure out ways to use them on a plane, but you look like a hospital patient - READ "self conscious". Also, forget trying to sleep in public without it as the snoring would be embarrassing and also annoying to others. The tonsil and septum operation could potentially free me from that, so it is a future option.
So if you have these symptoms, get diagnosed and get a CPAP machine. The life you safe could be your own, or even that of others.