NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Three million Americans suffer from sleep apnea – which means they actually stop breathing during the night.

It used to be that doctors would recommend treating only severe sleep apnea, but TV 10-55’s Katie McGee took a look at a new study which found that even people with mild to moderate apnea can get relief from treatment.

Ernie Friesen is just one example. The 57-year-old used to have trouble keep his eyes open even to read a magazine, as he would stop breathing an average of 14 times an hour during his sleep.

Doctors diagnosed him with mild sleep apnea, and his doctors enrolled him in first-of-its-kind study for the millions of Americans suffering from similar symptoms.

Researchers found 239 patients. Some wore CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) masks, which use mild air pressure to keep airways open. Others had fake masks. Those with the real CPAP felt much more awake during the day.

“We now have evidence that CPAP therapy will definitely improve your overall function, your quality of life and your ability to remain awake during the day,” said Dr. Harly Greenburg of the North Shore LIJ Sleep Disorders Center.

Diagnosing the condition used to require going to a special lab and trying to sleep with electrodes attached to your head. Now there are home sleep monitoring devices which are mess less expensive – much more like normal sleep.

Better yet, the CPAP machines are now smaller, quieter and more comfortable than the older devices.

Friesen said the new treatment is changing his entire life.

“In the daytime, I noticed a difference that I wasn’t tired anymore,” he said. “I could get right through the whole day.”

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