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Snoring may lead to more than sleepless nights

In part two of the week-long series, “Sleep from A to Z,” the “Today” show takes a closer look at this common problem and its hidden dangers.
/ Source: TODAY

If you or someone you love snores, it could literally be ruining your life. Did you know that the non-snoring partner loses an average hour of sleep every single night, tossing and turning as they try to block out the noise or try and quiet the snorer? And we joke about the snorer all the time, but it really isn't a laughing matter. The “Today” show found out some of the reasons behind loud snoring. And how, if not properly treated, it might even be life-threatening.

Whether you snore like a timid monster or a freight train, it could be more than just annoying.

In America, it's become an epidemic. Why?

The fatter we get, the more we snore. 45% of all adults snore occasionally. 25% are habitual snorers.

Sometimes, breathing actually stops ...

Dr. Clifford Foster, otolaryngologist:The airway collapses and when they try to breathe in, they create a pressure like a vacuum and that pulls the airway even more in and they're not able to get air in.

That's called sleep apnea. Often, it's the partner who recognizes the symptoms.

Dr. Glenn Singer, sleep specialist: We get things like ‘I looked over to see if he was still alive — there was a deafening silence.’

An estimated 18 million people have obstructive sleep apnea, and experts say, most don't even know it. Waking up exhausted, or being unusually tired during the day is the first sign.

Dr. Alex Chediak, sleep specialist: The fragmentation of sleep that occurs in order to breathe makes it so that you get no rest.

A new Yale University study shows obstructive sleep apnea doubles the risk of stroke.

Dr. Chediak: Is it dangerous? You betcha it's dangerous. It's associated with all these medical problems, it's associated with more blood pressure problems, it's associated with more heart disease.

Football player Reggie White died from it.

And no one knows how many others who've died in their sleep went undiagnosed.

Doreen Brown worries that her sleep problems are becoming life threatening.

Doreen Brown: I fall asleep driving on the road. When I stop at the traffic light, I fall asleep.

At Broward General Hospital's sleep lab, Doreen learned she stops breathing an average of 90 times an hour. That's every 45 seconds.

No wonder she's so tired.

Richard Rossiter's always exhausted, but he thought his poor sleep habits just came with age.

Richard “Ross” Rossiter: When you get older things start to change.

Monitors in the sleep lab at Mount Sinai reveal Ross never really falls into a deep sleep — what's known as deep REM.

Not as bad as Doreen's 90, but clearly a problem.

For Doreen and Ross, the only remedy is CPAP, a machine that provides continuous positive airway pressure. It forces air straight into the lungs.

Almost magically snoring and apnea disappear.

Dr. Glenn Singer, sleep specialist: People think who's going to want to sleep with this thing on? And I tell people you're gonna either think this is something we ought to do to bin Laden when we capture him or you're gonna come back saying this is the greatest thing ever invented. Brown: I'm wide awake and I'm not tired.

By the time Ross got home, he was up and running, and ready to seize the day.

Rossiter: I feel great. I haven't slept like that in a long time.