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Sleep on the Government's Agenda

June 25, 2009

Has someone been falling asleep in Congress?I was delighted to hear that Florida Congressman Gus Bilirakis has just introduced a sleep apnea awareness resolution to the House of Representatives. The goal is to raise public awareness of this serious condition and encourage all Americans to educate themselves - and others - about the consequences and potential treatments of sleep apnea. Perfect timing given the fact the President is about to focus on health care.

I’ve been talking about obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) for years trying to raise awareness and help people successfully treat it. Some basic facts about OSA:

  • OSA afflicts more than 12 million Americans.
  • OSA is characterized by repeated stops and starts of breathing during sleep when throat muscles relax and block the  airway.
  • Snoring is often a sign of OSA.
  • When left untreated OSA can trigger a variety of health problems, from cardiovascular challenges to mood and memory problems.

Don’t have OSA? Don’t think it affects you? Well, consider the fact that people with OSA experience fragmented sleep, which makes for chronic daytime drowsiness. So imagine all those drowsy drivers sharing the same roads as you. Think about all the long-term health care costs that can be saved by treating OSA patients successfully.

Currently, the CPAP machine is the gold standard for treating OSA. But there’s also an association between OSA and weight, as studies have shown that OSA decreases with more physical activity and less weight - a message that the health care industry would do well to support.

Kudos to Congress for not falling asleep at the wheel, so to speak, on this issue. I just wonder, though, how many of our Congressional leaders suffer from OSA? Those long sessions probably can be tiring and tedious, certainly not the place were you want to be caught nodding off. And luckily, this is one issue immune to the politics of partisanship. All of us can benefit, from the floors of Congress to the streets of America.