All You Need to Know About Sleep Apnea

The Quest for Restful Zzzs – Do people complain about your snoring? You might want to consider getting checked for sleep apnea.

Perhaps your partner has long complained about your orchestra level snoring most nights. Or perhaps your friends would often chide you after they’ve found you napping since you’ve kept everybody else awake with your wheezing. Point is, you’re a notorious snorer. While it might be just that—as in, you tend to snore extra loud—it could also be a sign that you might be suffering from sleep apnea. And you really want to have that checked out.

The Basics
Sleep apnea is not exactly what you call a rare medical condition—you’ve probably heard the term thrown around in conversation once or twice—but it’s actual definition is, unfortunately, not that commonly known. So, in essence, sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder where the sufferer’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. This can happen up to hundreds of times a night.

Now, there are actually two types of sleep apnea. One is obstructive sleep apnea, which is the most common type and is caused by the airway being blocked. Central sleep apnea is caused by failure by the brain to signal the muscles to breathe. Fortunately, this is a much rarer condition and the solution is extremely straightforward: go see a doctor, now! For the rest of this discussion, we will focus on the more commonly encountered obstructive sleep apnea.

So, let’s start with step one: What are the usual symptoms that I need to look out for? First and foremost, loud snoring. Restless sleep is also a solid indicator, especially if you occasionally wake up with a choking or gasping sensation. Silent pauses in breathing while you sleep is another worrying symptom. Sleep apnea symptoms also manifest during waking hours in the form of extra sleepiness or fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, irritability and decreased sex drive.

There are also a number of risk factors closely related to sleep apnea. If you’re a male over the age of 40 with a body mass index of 25 or more and/or if you have a fairly large neck size—over 17 inches—then you might want to consider getting checked as soon as possible. Allergies, sinus problems and other cases of nasal obstruction should also be noted. Finally, smoking and regular alcohol consumption are also known risk factors.

In itself, sleep apnea mainly causes ineffective sleep—i.e., you don’t get sufficient rest, which then affects your mood, productivity and so on. Left untreated, however, sleep apnea can increase the risk of contracting other, more serious health problems. These include: High blood pressure, stroke, heart failure (and other cardiopulmonary issues), type 2 diabetes and liver problems. That, and sleep-deprived partners.

Getting It Treated
Getting tested for sleep apnea can include everything from a regular doctor’s visit up to a polysomnogram, or a sleep study. EEG tests might also be used along with other tests. This, however, is the realm of professionals.

So, let’s move on to treatment options Naturally, how sleep apnea is treated will vary depending on severity. For mild cases of sleep apnea, the solution can be behavioral therapy, which may include:

  • Positional therapy; basically changing your sleep position in order to improve breathing
  • Weight control
  • Quitting smoking and alcohol
  • Avoiding sleeping pills, including (or perhaps especially) over-the-counter medication

More serious cases might necessitate the use of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP. This treatment involves using a mask worn over the mouse and nose during sleep. The mask is hooked up to a machine that delivers a constant flow of air into the nose which will help keep the airways open. The end result: regular breathing.

Dental devices or oral appliances can also be used. These resemble mouth guards or orthodontic retainers, and work by holding the tongue or jaw in an optimal position to ensure proper breathing. This option is often preferred over CPAP as it is a lot less obstructive.

If all else fails, surgery might be called for. One final option that might be considered is an upper airway stimulator, a device that can stimulate the nerves controlling the airway muscles.

In the end, as with many other common health problems, the most basic principle remains: If you—or those around you—feel that you might have a problem, get it checked ASAP. It might cost you and you might have to spend an afternoon in a doctor’s office or a clinic, but it would be worth it to ensure that you sleep soundly each and every night.