MONDAY, Jan. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Daytime sleepiness, a common complaint of people with obstructive sleep apnea, improves greatly after surgery for the disorder, according to a new study.

Sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes partially or completely blocked in short spurts, causing pauses in breathing that usually last a few seconds but can occur 30 times or more an hour, disrupting sleep. The most common treatment for adults is continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, which uses a machine to increase air pressure in the throat to keep the airway open. But surgery to open the airway is another option.

The study, by researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, involved 40 people who had one of the three types of surgery used to treat obstructive sleep apnea: uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (removal of excess tissue in the throat), tonsillectomy or radiofrequency ablation of the base of the tongue.

Before their surgery, all of the study participants reported being very sleepy during the day. After surgery, however, ratings on standardized scales revealed that daytime sleepiness was greatly reduced in 38 of them. In addition, the participants experienced, on average, a 50 percent reduction in nighttime sleep interruptions, the study reported.

"This study validates what patients have told us regarding their improved alertness after surgery," Dr. Kathleen L. Yaremchuk, a study co-author who chairs the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, said in a hospital news release.

The findings were presented at a recent Triological Society meeting in Arizona. Experts note that research presented at meetings is not subjected to the same scrutiny given research published in medical journals.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about sleep apnea.