What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes breathing to suddenly stop for a moment, and then start up again. These pauses in breathing decrease the amount of oxygen taken into the body and affect your sleep quality. Sleep apnea is a potentially serious condition.
If you snore loudly, wake up with a headache or dry throat, or feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, you should pay a visit to your doctor.
Sleep aponea, as we spell it here in the UK, or sleep apnea, as the Americans spell it, can affect anyone. Adults and children, men and women, it doesn’t discriminate, though it does tend to be more common in adult males over 40 years of age.
Different Types Of Sleep Aponea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) – OSA occurs when something blocks the airway at the back of the throat, such as the tongue or soft tissues.
Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) – CSA occurs because there is a problem with the brain’s respiratory control system. The brain fails to send the signal that the person needs to breathe when there is a drop in oxygen.
Mixed Sleep Apnea – also known as Complex Sleep Apnea – is when a person suffers from both OSA and CSA.
Your body needs sleep to rejuvenate and keep functioning optimally day-to-day. You can read more about why sleep is so important here. If you have sleep apnea, your body cannot maintain deep, restorative sleep because the decrease in oxygen wakes you up. If this cycle continues for a while you will become chronically sleep-deprived, leading to excessive day time sleepiness, irritability, and even depression.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea symptoms include:
- Constant Tiredness
- Lack of concentration
- Morning headaches
- Dry throat and mouth
The first symptom you may become aware of is snoring. Snoring is not always indicative of sleep apnea, but if the snoring is loud or is more of a snort or a choking sound, sleep apnea could be the cause.
While you sleep your airway becomes obstructed by your tongue and soft palate. You try to take a breath and, even though muscle motion occurs, you don’t take in any air. When your oxygen levels drop the signals are sent to the brain to wake you up so that you can continue breathing. This is when you will gasp for air, snort, or snore very loudly.
This can happen as much as thirty times per hour during sleep. Imagine that! If you sleep for eight hours and you stop breathing 30 times an hour, you stop breathing 240 times per night. If each stoppage lasts one minute and your brain wakes you up each time, you miss out on four hours of sleep every single night of the week, for weeks or months on end.
Types Of Breathing Obstruction
When we breathe several things happen all at once. The muscles of the chest expand and lower the diaphragm to create negative pressure. This negative pressure is what sucks the air into the lungs. Sometimes a person’s airway is just narrower than normal. Plain and simple anatomy can be the cause of obstructive sleep apnea.
Other obstructions that can affect breathing during your sleep are a deviated septum that has narrowed the air passages, or the filters in the nose (called turbinates) that obstruct breathing if they become swollen.
The sidewalls of the throat can also collapse and close the airway, often due to low muscle tone and extra flesh in the neck area caused by obesity. Sometimes the airway is obstructed while attempting to breathe because the tissues of the airway get sucked together by the negative pressure.
If you have a deviated septum you can try using strips on your nose to hold the nasal passages open. They may be enough to alleviate your symptoms and let you get the sleep you so desperately need and deserve each night. Before you try anything though, you need to discuss all of your options with your doctor to see which is the best fit for you.
Obesity’s Roll In Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) affects approximately 6% of adults and 2% of children in the US. Around twice as many men as women suffer from it, and the numbers are on the rise as more people are becoming obese.
Obesity is not a symptom; it is a cause. Obesity makes sleep apnea worse. About 70% of obese people in the USA have obstructive sleep apnea.
The way obesity comes into play with sleep apnea is that the fatty tissue that has built up around the neck affects the neck muscles and soft palate, and even the little flap in the back of your throat called the uvula. When you go to sleep all the muscles relax and the weight of the fatty tissue closes off your airway.
This can eventually lead to respiratory failure and could be fatal. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Obesity causes many health problems, sleep apnea is just one of them. A healthy diet and regular exercise are very important if you want to stay fit and well. Losing excess weight can help cure your sleep apnea.
Losing just 10% of your total body fat can help decrease the seriousness of your sleep apnea by 30%. The more you lose the better off you will be. When you get to your ideal weight, or even just meet your weight loss goal, you may find that sleep apnea isn’t a problem for you anymore.
Talk to your doctor about starting a diet and exercise program. If you haven’t been very active for a while then you may just have to start walking or swimming or even walking in a swimming pool. Easy enough, right? Combine the exercise with a low-carb diet and you will start losing weight in no time.
Can Sleep Apnea Cause Depression?
Suffering from sleep apnea can indirectly lead to depression. Being constantly tired often leaves people feeling low and hopeless. Although depression is not the only consequence of sleep apnea, it can be the one that most affects your quality of life.
Depression can be a devastating disorder if left untreated. Feeling down and despondent can affect your whole life, causing problems with family and friends, and with your job.
If your depression is caused because you are not getting enough quality sleep at night then you need to address it with your doctor and get treatment right away. Sleep disorders like sleep apnea can lead to many other issues, but depression doesn’t have to be one of them.
Side Effects From Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is one of a few sleep disorders that affect millions of people on a nightly basis and can be so severe that it becomes life-threatening in more ways than one. Not getting restful sleep every night can cause a number of symptoms or changes in behavior that can affect your performance at work, at home, and on the road.
You need to be at your best when you are behind the wheel of a car, and if you are not getting restful sleep then you are not at your best. Sleep deprivation is as bad or worse than drinking and driving. The only difference is that driving while sleep-deprived is not illegal, yet. There have been some people who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea who have had their licenses taken away by the DMV because they pose a risk to themselves and others.
If you even suspect you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, do not hesitate to take action. The sooner the better, in fact. Sleep apnea can be a very dangerous condition and if left untreated can potentially be fatal. What if you stopped breathing when you were sleeping and just didn’t start again? This has happened and, though rare, is a very scary thing to contemplate.
How To Tell If You Have Sleep Apnea
If you are constantly trying to stay awake at work, drinking your own body weight in coffee each day, or downing energy drinks like they are going out of fashion, there’s a good chance you could be suffering from sleep apnea.
Ask your partner if they have noticed any loud snoring, snorting, or gasping for breath when you are sleeping. You could also record yourself during the night to gain a better understanding of your sleep habits. If you suspect something is wrong, talk to your doctor about it.
What Will Your Doctor Do?
Your doctor can order a sleep study where you go to a special clinic and get hooked up to monitors which record your breathing and blood oxygen levels while you sleep. Your doctor will diagnose if you have sleep apnea and if so, what type you have; obstructive, central or mixed/complex sleep apnea.
What Is The Treatment For Sleep Apnea?
Treatment may be as simple as changing your pillow, losing weight, or wearing an oral device made by your dentist. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form of treatment is using a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP, machine. This machine has a mask that you have to wear while sleeping. It continuously blows air into your nose to keep you breathing at all times.
Oral devices may need to be worn if you cannot tolerate the CPAP machine but they will not be as effective so it is best to try to become accustomed to wearing the mask at night. If you find that the mask pushes uncomfortably into your face you may want to try sleeping with an EnVy Pillow. The special design of this pillow tilts your face up and back so the mask isn’t pressed against it.
If you only have a mild form of sleep apnea you could probably get away with wearing an oral device to keep your tongue from falling back and blocking your airway. These devices either hold your tongue down or change the way you hold your mouth when you are sleeping, to give you more room behind your tongue, keeping your airway open.
You may be encouraged by your doctor to teach yourself to sleep on your side instead of rolling on to your back. A good idea is to sleep with a rolled-up blanket or towel behind your back to keep you in that position.
If you have a severe case, surgery may be necessary to remove the obstruction. Obstructions can include a deviated septum in the nasal passages, or tonsils and adenoids in the throat and sinuses. Removing the tonsils and adenoids will allow for more room in the airway and make a collapse of the airway less likely.
Central sleep apnea or complex, or mixed, sleep apnea are the most dangerous kinds of this disorder. In the most severe cases, a tracheostomy with the placement of a trach tube in the throat or below the obstructed area may be your only option.
The simplest ways to treat sleep apnea comes in the form of lifestyle changes and should be the first thing you try. Quitting smoking and losing excess weight can be enough to eliminate sleep apnea altogether, allowing you to get the quality sleep you need. There are also some exercises that you can do to tone the muscles of the neck and throat. Find out more about those exercises here.
Inspire Sleep Apnea Treatment
Inspire Sleep Apnea Innovation has come up with a small device that is implanted into the chest during an outpatient procedure. The Inspire implant is controlled by remote control. You just turn it on before bed and it stimulates the nerves in the upper airway, making sure the airway stays open.
So far it’s been pretty successful. Many people are turning to Inspire as they can’t get along with the CPAP machine and they can’t continue to live with the devastating side effects of sleep apnea. It’s great that there’s now another treatment option available to sufferers.
Coping With Sleep Apnea
Sleep Apnea can be a really hard thing to live with, day in, day out. The effects of sleep deprivation can be serious. If you’re not getting the regular, good quality sleep you need it will take its toll on your health eventually. Lack of sleep has a detrimental effect on the immune system. And it leaves us much more vulnerable to serious illnesses such as diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Diagnosis and treatment are of the utmost importance if you think you may be suffering from Sleep Apnea. Don’t let it get to the point where you’re wandering around like a zombie and you don’t know what day it is. We all need to prioritize our sleep if we want to be the best we can be. Don’t wait. Get it sorted, now.