HEALTH

Weight loss and sleep apnea: One woman's quest to lose weight and sleep better

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Rebecca McCormick, who says she has always struggled with her weight, has found a way to lose 45 pounds since April.

"My whole life had been one rollercoaster of doing that," she says, in reference to her lifelong struggle to maintain her weight. But in 2011, a variety of different methods have helped her drop about two pounds per week.

As with most people who lose weight, a healthy diet and a consistent exercise regimen are part of her method. McCormick, though, chalks up her extreme weight loss to one more factor.

Breathing.

Last April, McCormick participated in a sleep study that revealed she had sleep apnea.

Sufferers of sleep apnea briefly and repeatedly stop breathing while they sleep due to a blockage of the airway. WebMD says that the people who are most at risk of the condition are, among other qualities, overweight.

"The sleep technicians said I had been waking an average of 22 times an hour," McCormick says. A few of the many symptoms of sleep apnea include daytime fatigue, snoring and waking up short of breath - something Rebecca's husband, Myron, found scary.

"I would hear her gasping," he says. "I would roll over and say 'Rebecca, are you ok?'"

MORE: Do I have sleep apnea? A look at symptoms and warning signs

What more, doctors and experts say that the condition makes it extremely hard for people to lose weight, creating a harmful catch-22.

"The body can't shed the pounds that it needs to because it can't get into restorative sleep," sleep expert Larry Twersky says.

To help alleviate the problem, McCormick started using a machine to maintain positive air pressure; the technique is aimed to keep her airway open while she sleeps. The first time she tried it, she said she cried with joy.

"(The) first time I woke up, I realized I had been asleep for five hours," she said. "I literally started crying because that was the longest I could ever remember having slept as an adult."

Since then, Rebecca says her life has turned around completely. She sleeps eight hours a night, doesn't snore anymore, and has the energy to work out on a daily basis.

"Many times, I don't wake up at all in the night," McCormick said. "(My) emotions stabilized. I'm back to being a positive and energetic person."

Twersky says people who can't lose weight with diet and exercise alone might indeed be one of the millions who have an underlying sleep disorder. He says if you suspect sleep apnea, you should consult with a doctor about getting tested.

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