Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious medical condition which involves the inability to continuously supply oneself with an adequate amount of air during sleep. If left untreated, sleep apnea can produce very severe negative consequences, including daytime drowsiness, decreased facial attractiveness, fatigue, decreased longevity and others as well. Though many people may think of sleep apnea as a “modern” health issue, there is an extensive history of sleep apnea, the symptoms associated with the condition have been noted for at least 2,000 years. Furthermore, the conception of sleep apnea as a distinct condition is not a modern phenomenon either: in late 19th century England, the term “Pickwickian Syndrome” was widely used to describe the condition, though at that time obesity was overemphasized as a leading factor in the development of the ailment.
Despite its long history, however, significant progress in the treatment of sleep apnea has been made only within the past half century. The first polysomnograph successfully recorded apneas during sleep in 1965. Between 1970 and 1980, a large quantity of research was conducted on sleep apnea: hundreds of scholarly articles on sleep apnea were published in medical journals, and many of the most fundamental scientific facts regarding the condition were uncovered. A breakthrough occurred in 1981 when Colin Sullivan, an Australian professor, physician and sleep disorder researcher, published his seminal paper on the concept of non-invasive CPAP therapy in the Australian journal The Lancet.¹ Dr. Sullivan’s insight was that the root causes of sleep apnea could be treated with a mask designed to keep the patient’s airway open.
Since the publication of this paper, CPAP therapy has undergone incremental advancements and changes up to the present time. Moreover, research on the epidemiology of sleep apnea has continued, and medical scientists have made considerable progress in identifying risk factors, causes and associations involving the condition. For instance, in 2000, a series of papers demonstrated a link between hypertension and sleep apnea. Comorbidities associated with sleep apnea continue to be identified by researchers today. Due to the efforts of such researchers, CPAP therapy has developed into a reliable, comfortable and effective treatment for sleep apnea. Though further improvement is needed and desired, CPAP therapy provides sleep apnea patients a means to achieve substantial improvement in their overall quality of life.