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Sleep Apnea Sufferers Get Help After Watching Sleep Lab Video

DENVER (CBS4)- An estimated 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea which means they stop breathing at different times during their sleep cycle.

It's a serious health problem and can be life threatening. Many sufferers won't use a machine designed to help them breathe-- until they watch a video showing them sleeping.

One doctor in Denver is using a unique incentive to help those sufferers make sure they get the help they need. He calls it "seeing is believing."

"I was holding my breath, holding my breath," said sleep apnea sufferer John Brugger as he watches a video showing him sleeping. "Still holding my breath."

Brugger was diagnosed with sleep apnea three years ago when he realized, "I was drowning."

Brugger is a husband and a father of five who said he was always exhausted. His wife told him he was snoring and warned him that he stopped breathing in his sleep.

"But I went up hunting and my buddy said, 'Hey, it's serious, better check it out,'" said Brugger.

Brugger went to National Jewish Health for a sleep study.

Dr. Mark Aloia, a health psychologist, recorded Brugger sleeping as part of a pilot study. Then he showed him the video.

"And seeing himself struggle and struggle for breath at night was very moving to him," said Aloia.

Ever since Brugger has been sleeping while wearing a machine called CPAP, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. It treats his sleep apnea, a disorder that can contribute to stroke and heart disease.

When asked if he felt like he has extended his life, Brugger answered, "Definitely, I'm much healthier. I don't get sick as much."

Brugger said in the past three years he's become a better husband and father now that he can finally keep up with his family.

Aloia studied 20 patients. He found those who saw their videos increased their nightly use of the CPAP by about two hours.

Aloia plans a study of 300 to see if using this method can truly motivate patients to chance their behavior.

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