National Sleep Awareness Week is March 7-13

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National Sleep Awareness Week is March 7-13: Are you at risk for sleep apnea – a serious breathing disorder?

Find out if you are at risk for sleep apnea – a serious breathing disorder that could affect 7 million Canadians 

Saskatoon, March 7 - Are you often very sleepy throughout the day? Do others tell you that you snore or have short pauses in your breathing while you sleep? Do you think you get a full night’s sleep most nights but still wake up tired? You may have sleep apnea, a serious breathing problem that interrupts your sleep.

A recent survey[1] conducted by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that twenty-six per cent of Canadian adults aged 18 years and older are estimated to be at high risk for having sleep apnea. The Lung Association urges people to find out if they are at risk.

Sleep apnea is a serious breathing disorder that causes sufferers to have dozens or hundreds of breathing pauses or “apneas” per night. The survey revealed that about 7 million Canadians either have sleep apnea or are at high risk for having sleep apnea.

“It is alarming that very few of these at-risk Canadians have been assessed for sleep apnea,” says Dr. John Fleetham, an advisor to the survey and past-chair of the Canadian Thoracic Society (CTS) Sleep Disordered Breathing Committee. The CTS is the medical arm of the Canadian Lung Association.

“While we have always assumed that most cases of sleep apnea have gone undetected, this is the first large-scale Canadian survey to give us some hard data on the scope of the problem,” said Dr. Brian Graham, another advisor for the survey, Chair of the Canadian Lung Association Chronic Disease Working Group and President & CEO of the Lung Association of Saskatchewan. 

The survey also found that only 5% of people at high risk for sleep apnea had been tested for the condition. “People need to be more aware of the symptoms for sleep apnea and those at high risk need to be tested. Family physicians need to be aware that a quarter of their patients may be at high risk for sleep apnea,” added Graham. “Canadians who have signs and symptoms of sleep apnea should talk to their doctors about getting tested.”

Sleep Apnea = repeated suffocation during sleep

With each sleep apnea episode, blood oxygen levels are reduced and sleep is disturbed as the sleeper must wake briefly to resume breathing. However, the sleeper typically does not become fully awake and usually has no recollection of the awakening. This cycle happens repeatedly throughout the night, interfering with the normal sleep pattern that is needed for adequate rest.

The strain on the body due to repeated periods of suffocation during sleep and the chronic sleep deprivation caused by repeated sleep disturbances has both physical and psychological consequences. People with untreated sleep apnea are more likely to have motor vehicle crashes, hypertension, heart attacks, irregular heart beat stroke, depression, impotence and diabetes. “Every day in Canada, car crashes are caused by drivers with sleep apnea falling asleep at the wheel.  Marriages have broken up and jobs have been lost, all for the lack of diagnosis and treatment,” says Dr. Fleetham.

Treatment is simple and effective

“Fortunately, there are very safe and cost–effective treatments for sleep apnea that begin working immediately,” says Dr. Robert Skomro, Division of Respiratory Medicine at the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon, recipient of the Lung Association of Saskatchewan’s sleep apnea professorship and chair of the Canadian Thoracic Society (CTS) Sleep Disordered Breathing Committee. The most common treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which works by delivering a steady flow of air through a special mask to keep airways open during sleep. “Unfortunately, very few sleep apnea patients have been tested for this condition and for those who have been tested access to CPAP is often limited. Despite its efficacy and cost-effectiveness this treatment is only covered by the medical plans in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan; so many patients in other provinces with limited financial resources go untreated,” added Dr. Skomro.  Most people who receive this treatment report improved sleep, quality of life and that their snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness go away.

Need for more testing

“Many areas of the country have significant waiting times for testing. In many instances patients wait for years before the diagnosis is established and therapy initiated” says Dr. Skomro. The Canadian guidelines for the treatment of sleep apnea, developed by the Canadian Thoracic Society, state that waiting times should be no more than six months. People such as truck drivers, bus drivers, airline pilots and taxi drivers should be tested within two to four weeks because of the dangerous potential consequences of sleep apnea due to their occupations.

“These findings from the Public Health Agency of Canada underline and reinforce the importance of this kind of health surveillance. We now have some very important new evidence about the extent of the problem, thanks to these important findings,” says Graham. “While there is much work to do to increase awareness of sleep apnea and build more capacity for sleep apnea testing and treatment, the good news is that the syndrome is eminently treatable.”

About these findings

The Sleep Apnea Rapid Response Survey, a component of the Canadian Community Health Survey, was developed and funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada and conducted by Statistics Canada in 2009. The survey collected information from 8647 adults in all 10 provinces and included questions about risk factors and symptoms of sleep apnea, including: snoring, daytime tiredness, periods of stopping breathing during sleep observed by a bed partner, high blood pressure and being overweight or obese. Sleep apnea is more common in men and more common over age 50. Having three or more symptoms or risk factors puts one at high risk for sleep apnea. The study was presented at the 2010 Chest Conference in Vancouver, B.C. on October 31.

About The Lung Association of Saskatchewan

Established in 1911, The Lung Association is celebrating 100 years of service to the people of Saskatchewan. We are Saskatchewan’s oldest health charity. You have come to know and trust The Lung Association as the premier source for lung health in our province. All of our quality educational materials, programs, services and treatment guidelines are based on current evidence-based research. You will find The Lung Association active in communities across Saskatchewan conducting lung disease prevention and management programs that include asthma, COPD, sleep apnea, lung cancer and smoking cessation. The Lung Association also provides training for health care professionals, delivers health education in schools, facilitates patient support groups, and lobbies for clean air.


About The Canadian Thoracic Society

The Canadian Thoracic Society (CTS) promotes lung health by supporting the respiratory community through leadership, collaboration, research, learning and advocacy, and promoting the best respiratory practices in Canada.

To learn more about sleep apnea or the respiratory guidelines, please visit or


For more information please contact:

Brian Graham, President & CEO                     

Lung Association of Saskatchewan                   

Saskatoon - (306) 343-9511 or 1-888-566-LUNG


Marion Laroque, RT, C.R.E.

Lung Association of Saskatchewan                   

Saskatoon - (306) 343-9511 or 1-888-566-LUNG

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Page Last Updated: 27/03/2018