Sleep apnea: It’s more common than you think
What springs to mind when you think of sleep apnea?
You might be guilty of thinking it only affects the older generation or those suffering from obesity.
While it is true that the risk is greater among older or overweight people, the truth is that sleep apnea can affect anyone.
According to studies it regularly affects one in three people worldwide on a nightly basis.
In this post, we’ll take an in-depth look at sleep apnea, its different causes and symptoms, and what can be done to treat it. Let’s dive in.
So, what is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which your breathing stops and starts as you sleep. The main types of sleep apnea are:
Obstructive sleep apnea
This is the most common form and happens when the muscles in the back of your throat relax during sleep.
Central sleep apnea
Less commonly sleep apnea can happen when your brain isn’t sending the right signals to the muscles that control your breathing.
Complex sleep apnea syndrome
Also known as treatment-emergent sleep apnea, this occurs when you suffer from both obstructive and central sleep apnea at the same time.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax, which causes your airway to narrow or close as you try to breathe in. This means that your air supply is limited and the oxygen level in your blood drops as a result.
Your clever brain will then wake you from sleep to let you know that your breathing isn’t sufficient and that you need to open your airway.
You might then snort, choke, or gasp for air. This can then become a repetitive cycle, happening maybe even five to 30 times per hour.
Central sleep apnea is caused by the brain failing to transmit signals to your breathing muscles. Which means that you’re not breathing for short periods of time during sleep. It often goes hand in hand with insomnia, meaning that you have a difficult time getting to sleep or staying asleep.
Sleep apnea causes
Although sleep apnea can affect anyone (including children), there are risk factors that will heighten your chances. These include:
Obesity: Possibly the biggest risk factor, being overweight greatly increases your chances of experiencing sleep apnea. The extra layers of fat can make breathing more difficult.
Gender: If you’re male, you’re two to three times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than women.
Age: Sleep apnea makes an appearance more frequently in older adults.
Use of substances: The use of substances such as alcohol or sedatives will relax the muscles in your throat, contributing to an increased risk of sleep apnea. If you smoke, you’re also at greater risk.
Allergies: Allergies will give you a regularly stuffy nose, meaning your risk of developing sleep apnea is increased.
Medical conditions: Congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and Parkinson's disease are some of the medical conditions that could be a trigger for sleep apnea.
What are the signs of sleep apnea?
Most people don’t realize that they have it – so it’s usually pointed out by the unlucky person they share a bed with.
Many cases of sleep apnea will include:
° Loud snoring
° Disrupted breathing during sleep, such as gasping for air, choking sounds, or stopping breathing altogether
° A dry mouth when you wake
° A dull or throbbing headache in the morning
° Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
° Decreased attention span
What problems can it cause?
Disrupted sleep and tiredness can also cause disruption to your awake time and undermine your general health. Indeed, sleep apnea can be serious, especially if left untreated.
It can cause:
Being repeatedly woken up as a result of sleep apnea isn’t just annoying, but also prevents you from getting any good rest. This means you may be spending your days feeling drowsy, fatigued, and more than likely really grumpy.
Annoyed bed partners
Loud snoring may be one of the most annoying noises – and may well drive your partner crazy. In fact, if you have sleep apnea, it’s likely you’ll find your partner finding some peace in another room of the house. Just to catch some z’s. Help is at hand though – check out our blog post which has all the info you need on choosing the right earplugs to help them sleep.
High blood pressure or heart problems
When your breathing stops, the oxygen levels in your blood are lowered. This can put a strain on the cardiovascular system and can increase your blood pressure (hypertension).
Complications during surgery
Surgery that requires anesthesia can be dangerous for people with obstructive sleep apnea. This is because anesthesia slows down breathing and makes you more sensitive to its effects.
Make sure that you make your doctor aware of your sleep apnea before any surgery, so they are aware of it.
How to treat sleep apnea
The severity of sleep apnea varies, as do the treatments available to you.
If you happen to have a milder case, your doctor will probably recommend making changes to your lifestyle. Things like:
° Quitting smoking
° Losing weight
° Experimenting with different sleeping positions
° Avoiding alcohol and sedatives
But if your sleep apnea is on the more severe side, then you might need a more intensive approach.
Using devices to unblock the airway
Such as a continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) machine. This delivers air pressure through a mask while you sleep. There are also certain oral appliances designed to keep your throat open.
This is usually only reserved as a last-resort solution if other treatments have failed. Your doctor will usually persuade you to try a less invasive treatment for at least three months before having surgery. This surgery could include tissue removal, tissue shrinkage, or jaw repositioning.
So if you’re waking up tired and irritable and you don’t know why, sleep apnea may well be spoiling your beauty sleep. If you think that’s the case – and especially if any of the higher-risk factors apply to you – then take a positive step and go see a medical professional to get yourself checked out. The good news is there’s a whole lot of help out there to get you back to slumberville and the rest you deserve.