Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is continuously interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep. This result in the brain and the rest of the body, not get enough oxygen.
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder, and you may have sleep apnea if you snore loudly, or you feel tired even after a full night’s sleep.
Many people treat snoring as a joke, while others treat it as something to feel embarrassed about. However, loud snoring, especially when accompanied by daytime low energy, may be a sign of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can leave you feeling exhausted during the day, affect your mood and your relationship with your bed partner, and can be dangerous to one’s health.
The chronic sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea can result in daytime slow reflexes, poor concentration, and an increased risk of mishaps. Sleep apnea can also cause moodiness, irritability, and even lead to depression, as well as serious physical health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, liver problems, and gaining of weight.
However, with the right treatment and self-help strategies, you can control your snoring and the symptoms of sleep apnea, and feel refreshed and ready to act during the day.
Types Of Sleep Apnea
The main types of sleep apnea are:
- Obstructive sleep apnea, which is the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax.
- Central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome, which occurs when someone suffers from both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
The most common type of sleep apnea (obstructive sleep apnea), occurs when the airway is blocked, causing pauses in breathing and loud snoring.
Sleep apnea only occurs while you’re sleeping, and as such, you may only discover you have a problem when a bed partner or roommate complains about your snoring.
Though you may feel self-conscious about it or just make light of it, it’s something you shouldn’t ignore, as it can take a serious toll on your physical and emotional health.
Signs And Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea
It can be tough to identify sleep apnea on your own since it only occurs when you’re asleep, but you can get around this difficulty by recording yourself during sleep or by asking a bed partner to observe your sleep habits. If it is observed that pauses occur while you snore, and if choking or gasping follows the pauses, these are major warning signs that you have sleep apnea.
The most common signs and symptoms of sleep apneas include:
- Loud snoring
- A morning headache
- Episodes of breathing cessation during sleep. This can be witnessed by another person
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath.
- Wakening up with a dry mouth or a sore throat
- Excessive daytime drowsiness
- Problem with concentration
Sleep Apnea Or Snoring?
Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Similarly, not everyone who has sleep apnea snores. So, the biggest identifying sign is how you feel during the day.
Normal snoring doesn’t interfere with the quality of your sleep as much as sleep apnea does. Thus, you’re less likely to suffer from extreme fatigue and sleepiness during the day.
Record yourself sleeping and note how loud and frequent your snoring is. You can as well ask your sleep partner to keep track of your snoring. If you’re gasping, choking, or making other unusual sounds, then you may have sleep apnea.
Even if you don’t have sleep apnea, a snoring problem can get in the way of your own sleep quality and health and that of your bed partner’s rest too.
Causes of Sleep Apnea
Your airway may be blocked or narrowed during sleep simply because your throat muscles tend to relax more than normal, and allergies or other medical conditions that cause nasal congestion and blockage may also contribute to sleep apnea.
However, Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat, which support the soft palate, the triangular piece of tissue hanging from the soft palate (uvula), the tonsils, the side walls of the throat and the tongue relax.
When these muscles relax, your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in, and you can’t get adequate air in. This lowers the level of oxygen in your blood.
Subsequently, the brain senses this inability to breathe and momentarily rouses you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway. This momentary awakening is usually so brief that you don’t remember it.
This pattern can repeat itself five to 30 times or more each hour, all night long, causing disruptions that impair your ability to reach the desired deep, restful phases of sleep. You’ll probably feel sleepy during your waking hours.
People with obstructive sleep apnea may not be aware that their sleep was interrupted, and some people with this type of sleep apnea may actually think they slept well all night.
Unlike obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea is often associated with serious illness, such as heart disease, stroke, neurological disease, or spinal or brainstem injury. Central sleep apnea is more common in males and people over the age of 65, and the first step in treating central sleep apnea is to treat the existing medical conditions that are causing it.
Causes And Treatment For Sleep Apnea In Children
The most common causes of obstructive sleep apnea in children are enlarged tonsils and adenoids, and a simple adenotonsillectomy to remove the tonsils and adenoids usually corrects the problem.
Your family doctor may also recommend using a CPAP or other breathing device for the child.
If excess weight is causing your child’s obstructive sleep apnea, then you will need to support, encourage, and help your child reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Risk Factors For Sleep Apnea
- Masculinity or being male
- Being overweight
- Being over 40 years of age
- Having a large neck size
- Having large tonsils,
- Having a large tongue, or a small jaw bone
- Having a family history of sleep apnea
- Gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD
- Nasal obstruction due to factors like a deviated septum, allergies, or sinus problems
Effects of Sleep Apnea?
If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a growing number of health problems like:
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure, irregular heartbeats, and heart attacks
- Worsening of ADHD
In addition, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for low energy or poor performance in one’s daily activities. This poor performance can lead to, motor vehicle crashes, and academic underachievement in children and students.
Lifestyle Changes To Reduce Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Weightloss: People who are overweight have extra tissue in the back of their throat. This extra tissue can fall down over the airway and block the flow of air into the lungs while they sleep. Losing weight can open up your throat and improve the symptoms of sleep apnea.
Quit smoking, since smoking contributes to sleep apnea by increasing inflammation and fluid retention in your throat and upper airway.
Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, and sedatives, especially before bedtime, since they can relax the muscles in the throat and interfere with breathing.
Exercise regularly, as it can have a major effect on the duration and quality of sleep, as well as help you lose weight.
Aerobic and resistance training and yoga can help reduce sleep apnea symptoms and strengthens the muscles in your airways while improving breathing.
Avoid caffeine and heavy meals close to the hours before going to bed.
Maintain regular sleep hours, as that will help you relax and sleep better. Sleep apnea episodes decrease when you get plenty of sleep. (find out more about sleep cycle).
Bedtime Tips For Preventing Sleep Apnea
- Sleep on your side, and avoid sleeping on your back which makes it more likely for your tongue and soft tissues to obstruct your airway.
- To keep yourself from rolling onto your back while you sleep, wedge a pillow behind your back.
- Prop your head up by four to six inches, or elevate your body from the waist up by using a foam wedge or special cervical pillow.
- Open your nasal passages at night by using a nasal dilator, saline spray, breathing strips, or a nasal irrigation system.
- Try chewing gum or holding a pen between your teeth for about 10 minutes before bedtime, or until your jaw starts to ache, to tighten the muscles that keep the mouth closed.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
If your sleep apnea is moderate to severe, a sleep doctor may help you find an effective treatment. Treatments for central and complex sleep apnea usually include treating any underlying medical condition, such as a heart or neuromuscular disorder that could be causing the apnea. Using supplemental oxygen and breathing devices while you sleep may also be included in the treatment options.
Treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Dental devices
- Other breathing devices
- Implants, and
When To See A Doctor
Consult a medical professional if you experience, or if your partner notices, snoring, loud enough to disturb the sleep of others, shortness of breath, gasping for air or choking that awakens you from sleep.
Intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep, and excessive daytime drowsiness, which may cause you to fall asleep while you’re working, watching television or even driving, are also signs to look out for.
Many people don’t think of snoring as a sign of something potentially serious, and not everyone who has sleep apnea snores, but ensure to talk to your doctor if you experience loud snoring; especially snoring that’s punctuated by periods of silence.