While it is estimated that at least 25% of men and 10% of women are likely affected by sleep apnea, more than half of people who have the condition tend to go undiagnosed. This serious sleeping disorder should be taken more seriously than it is, as it can not only be the cause of non-restorative sleep, but it also can lead to many very dangerous health problems.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a sleeping disorder in which the affected person stops breathing for several seconds at intervals throughout the night. This leads to a lack of oxygen, an increase in carbon dioxide, and an inability for the body to function as it should. While some people have sleep apnea due to a malfunction in the brain (Central Sleep Apnea—CSA), the most common type is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which is due to a physical blockage of the airways during sleep.
Certain people are more at risk for obstructive sleep apnea. Here are some of the factors that may lead to an increased risk of this condition:
- Family history of sleep apnea
- Being overweight or obese
- Being male (men are twice as likely as women to develop sleep apnea)
- Having a large neck circumference (17” in men and 16”in women)
- Thyroid problems
- Allergies, asthma, nasal congestion, deviated septum, or other breathing problems
- Enlarged adenoids or tonsils (usually in children)
- High blood pressure
- Recessed jaw
Symptoms and Signs of Sleep Apnea
People who have sleep apnea are often diagnosed after experiencing many of these signs and symptoms:
- Loud snoring
- Waking up with a headache in the mornings
- Fatigue and sleepiness during the day
- Insomnia or inability to sleep at night
- High blood pressure
- Occasionally waking up with a sensation of gasping or choking
- Mood changes, forgetfulness, poor work performance, relationship issues, irritability
- Waking up with a very dry mouth or sore throat
- Sleepiness during activity, especially driving
- Decreased libido
- Nighttime sweating
Solutions for Sleep Apnea
Although sleep apnea is a serious condition, the good news is that it is completely treatable. With diagnosis, treatment, and care from a medical professional, a person with sleep apnea can go on to live a normal lifestyle with very few adjustments. Also, in many cases the treatment of sleep apnea in people also has a tendency to relieve underlying conditions that the body is able to then heal on its own, once regular breathing and sleeping is resumed.
The most commonly prescribed treatment for obstructive sleep apnea by doctors in the United States continues to be the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine. This machine works to provide a continuous flow of air through the breathing tubes, which stops the airway from closing up to create pauses in breathing. A CPAP machine attaches to the body with an air tube and mask, is worn during sleep, and can be adjusted to whatever airflow the individual requires.
Bi-PAP or Bi-level PAP
For some people, CPAP is not quite what they need because the continuous flow of air makes it difficult for them to breathe out. Bi-PAP is a machine that allows the person to receive the air in a way that the pressure varies so that it is easier to exhale. This is a treatment that is usually sought after the use of a CPAP machine doesn’t seem to be effective.
Sleep Apnea CPAP Pillow
Many people who use a CPAP machine for sleep apnea find that sleeping becomes uncomfortable when a mask is attached to the face. Restlessness during sleep can cause the seal of the mask to loosen, and some people may simply find it difficult to achieve a comfortable sleeping position. CPAP pillows are designed to offer slots for the mask straps to fit easily into, keeping the head and neck supported which is critical for healthy breathing.
Sleep Apnea Solutions without CPAP
Some people prefer not to use a breathing machine during sleep. Depending on the causes of sleep apnea, other solutions are available.
Many people find that simply adjusting their sleeping position from the back to the side or stomach can help to significantly reduce breathing episodes in people who have mild sleep apnea. Training yourself to sleep on your side or stomach can be challenging. Some products are available where a sensor vibrates when you’re sleeping on your back, jarring you enough to make you change positions. Sometimes a simple change in your pillow or mattress can help you be more comfortable sleeping on your back or side.
Depending on the reason for your sleep apnea, your dentist may be able to help you with treatment. If you have a recessed jaw, narrow breathing passages, or an enlarged tongue, you might benefit from an oral appliance to keep your mild to moderate sleep apnea at bay. This type of device must be custom fitted by a dentist who has specialized training in sleep therapy.
Although often challenging for people with sleep apnea, losing as little as ten pounds can help to reduce the effects of sleep apnea. Shrinking fat cells and reducing the amount of loose flesh in the neck around the breathing passages can significantly increase the body’s ability to breathe during sleep. Healthier eating habits and a regular exercise regimen can both aid in reducing inflammation which minimizes the obstruction of airways and helps with breathing.
Some people may benefit from a simple surgery to clear up their sleep apnea, depending on the cause. In children, a common cause of sleep apnea is enlarged tonsils or adenoids, which can be surgically removed. Some people have a deviated septum which causes tissues to obstruct breathing, and this can be addressed surgically. Other people may benefit from jaw surgery, or a specialized surgery on the soft palate that removes obstructive tissue. While surgery is not an option for everyone, some people prefer the idea of a one-time surgery over wearing a breathing machine at night for the rest of their lives.
If you suspect that you or someone you know has sleep apnea, the first step is to contact a medical professional for a diagnosis. A sleep study determine the severity of your sleep apnea and a specialist can narrow down the cause that can then be addressed. Your treatment options will be personal to you and you will likely begin to feel better after just a short amount of time of use.
Because sleep apnea has the potential to lead to many dangerous conditions, it is critical that you get access to medical care right away. Many people don’t like the idea of being treated because it may seem difficult or invasive. But the options of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or even a shorter life span are even more invasive. In comparison, these sleep apnea solutions are minimal and have the opportunity to make your life and health much better.