We all know how important it is to get a good night’s sleep. Its benefits for our mental and physical health are well documented. There are many different conditions that can affect the amount and quality of sleep you get. One of the most disruptive sleep disorders is sleep apnea.
The quest for a good night’s sleep
It is estimated that there are up to 70 million adults in the US alone who are experiencing some kind of sleep disorder (source: The Sleep Association) and approximately 9 million take some kind of medication to treat it. The availability of Ambien addiction treatment and others for medication used for sleeping is widely available if you have an issue.
What is sleep apnea?
The condition is characterized by interrupted or abnormal breathing when you’re asleep. Someone who has it might have long pauses between breaths or wake slightly due to this.
In some cases, this can happen hundreds of times a night, affecting oxygen supplies and leading to poor quality sleep. Many people describe it as being exhausted, even though they have had a full night’s sleep. The number of adults with sleep apnea is thought to be up to 9% but there could be many more undiagnosed cases.
Sleep apnea can affect people of any gender and age but tends to be more commonly diagnosed in men. It can be classed as Obstructive when the soft tissues in the throat become blocked and cause breathing to stop temporarily. There is also a type known as Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), which is thought to be caused by an issue with the brain and how it controls certain muscles.
Over time, this can lead to serious health issues.
Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea
As we’ve already seen, many people may not even know they have sleep apnea. Instead, they put it down to other things because they don’t realize that their sleep is being disrupted. The condition needs to be diagnosed by a medical professional, but you should be aware of the following symptoms.
- Uneven breathing when asleep, or long pauses between breaths. You won’t be able to notice this in yourself but a family member or friend may be able to identify it for you.
- Feeling exhausted and sleepy during the day
- Unable to concentrate or focus
- Mood swings
- Loud snoring that can sometimes sound like choking or coughing
- Waking up with a very dry mouth. People with sleep apnea often breathe through their mouths when sleeping.
How does it affect you?
Living with sleep apnea can have a huge effect on your health and everyday life. The longer you go without deep, uninterrupted sleep, the more health problems you may encounter.
These include confusion, sleepiness, lack of focus, and mood swings. Over the longer term, it also increases your risk of developing high blood pressure, having a heart attack, or stroke.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can develop sleep apnea, and not all cases have a specific cause. However, there are a number of things that can heighten your risk of developing it.
Not being a healthy weight can be a big risk factor. If you are overweight, this can cause your airways to become narrower when you sleep. If your apnea is directly caused by this, it will usually resolve itself when you lose weight.
You may have your parents to thank for your sleep apnea. If you have a parent or sibling who has it, your risk is increased too.
If you prefer to sleep on your back, this can cause there to be more pressure on your soft tissues, which can cause your throat to close. Try sleeping on your side.
An excess of certain hormones can cause soft tissues to swell in your throat as well as in the rest of your body. It’s common during pregnancy too and is why women often experience bleeding gums and nosebleeds.
Certain types of medication, particularly sedatives or those with a sedative like a side effect can cause the throat to relax too much, causing an obstruction.
The way that air flows through your system can be affected by how your neck, tongue, and jaw etc. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about this.
Statistically, those who regularly drink alcohol and smoke are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.
Treatment for sleep apnea
Your doctor will devise a treatment plan for you based on your medical history, the severity of your sleep apnea, and the underlying causes. Medications can’t be used to directly treat sleep apnea, but may be prescribed to treat the symptoms of any underlying medical issue.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine (CPAP)
This is perhaps the best-known treatment option. The mask is placed over your nose and/or mouth when you sleep, and the machine then keeps a consistent flow of air through the tube and into the mask. This keeps your airways open during the night, stabilizing your oxygen levels and allowing you to sleep deeply.
Corrective mouth appliances
Your doctor can make a custom device that you wear in your mouth during the night. It helps to keep your jaw and tongue in the correct position and reduce the chances of your airways closing.
If your apnea is caused by enlarged tonsils, a deviated septum, or a narrow throat, then your doctor may recommend surgery to correct this. If this was the full cause of your sleep apnea then this should be curative.
If your lifestyle includes a number of risk factors for apnea, then your doctor will recommend that you make some changes. This can include stopping drinking and smoking, losing any excess weight, and changing your sleeping position.
Sleep is vital to our overall health. If you suspect that you might have sleep apnea, you should visit your doctor who will be able to refer you to a specialist. In some cases, sleep apnea can disappear if the underlying cause is treated, or you may only be able to manage it.