A business owner's nightmare

Sleep apnea is dangerous not only to your health: It can also take a toll on your business.

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Catching Zzzzs: Your sleep tips Catching Zzzzs: Your sleep tips Catching Zzzzs: Your sleep tips
New research proves that fatigue, rampant in hard times, is bad for business. Here's how 8 entrepreneurs beat insomnia and get ROI from rest.

(Fortune Small Business) -- When it comes to sleep disorders, insomnia isn't the only affliction robbing the weary of rest - and profits. According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 20 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and about half don't realize it. Sleep apnea causes sufferers' airways to close every few minutes and forces the individuals awake as they fight for air. The symptoms? Snoring and daytime sleepiness. The malady has been linked to serious harm, such as strokes and heart disease.

It can also wreck your business, as Lou Hoffman learned firsthand. In 2003 his San Jose public relations firm, the Hoffman Agency, lost major client Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500) when the computer giant merged with Compaq. Hoffman needed to hustle up new business - fast. But he was perpetually exhausted, unable to focus, edgy, and irritable. "I tried everything - diet, exercise - but nothing helped," he recalls.

Hoffman's wife, Heather, informed him that he woke repeatedly in the night, choking and gasping for breath. She suspected he had apnea. Hoffman, 50, was skeptical. But as he struggled to keep his firm afloat, he finally saw a doctor who sent him to Stanford University's Center for Sleep Studies, one of the world's top sleep research facilities. The diagnosis: acute sleep apnea.

Treatments vary from lifestyle fixes, such as losing weight and avoiding alcohol before bed, to major surgery. Hoffman's savior was CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), which requires the sleeper to wear a plastic facemask connected to a machine that pumps air into his nose and throat, keeping the airways open. With CPAP, Hoffman breathes normally and sleeps all night.

CPAP may have saved Hoffman's life - and it surely saved his business. "I was reinvigorated," he says. Hoffman snagged new clients such as Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), Sony (SNE), and Siemens (SIE). It took 18 months to turn things around, but in 2007 the Hoffman Agency's revenues shot up to $10.2 million, a 30% jump from 2006. So far, 2008 looks even better.

The lesson: If you're so bushed that you can barely haul yourself to work in the morning no matter how many hours you sleep - or think you sleep, and especially if you also know you snore, don't delay. See a doctor now. To top of page

Have sleep issues affected your work? Join the discussion in our forum - or share your story in video and pictures with iReport.

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