If you have or think you may have sleep apnea, you probably know it’s often not taken seriously often enough. If another condition caused headaches in the morning, insomnia at night, difficulty staying awake during the day, an inability to focus, and mood disorders, it probably would be more easily recognized as serious and debilitating.

For some sufferers, one of the condition’s hardest aspects is knowing that your spouse or partner is unable to sleep due to your snoring, or out of worry after they find you gasping for air or not breathing at all.

ERISA may back you, but the rules are complex

Probably because of its name, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is best known as the federal law setting standards for retirement plans. But it also protects the rights of workers when it comes many other issues, including disability insurance.

ERISA not only protects your rights as an employee, a retiree, and as a patient, it also determines the process and reasoning you and your insurer must observe to get claims accepted or denied.

Insurance companies have a financial interest in turning you down, even as you and your doctor have interests in getting you diagnosed and treated. If you are turned down, your chances of forcing a change in the decision will be greatly improved if you have good evidence on your side.

That’s one of many reasons it’s important to have your sleep apnea diagnosed as soon possible, and to see that its complications are noted in your medical records. Insurance companies and the legal system will need to have these facts spelled out clearly and early.

Sufferers of sleep apnea can fight to be recognized

It’s taken generations for insurance companies to meet their obligation to cover sleep apnea treatment and to pay disability benefits for the sometimes-devastating condition.

Because sleep apnea often causes dramatic oxygen deprivation in the blood vessels, it increases your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and other serious complications. Poor sleep and low oxygen also increase your risk of liver disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, workplace accidents and vehicle crashes. In people with heart disease, it sometimes causes sudden death.

Although many of sleep apnea’s complications are grounds that can help your disability claim be accepted, sleep apnea itself may be much more difficult to get acknowledged as a basis for your disability. Getting diagnosed and treated as soon as possible could start developing the clear paper trail that you may need later.