Everything You Need to Know About Sleep Apnea
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common disorder that affects approximately 22 million Americans. The word apnea comes from the Greek word “apnoia” which means “without breath.” Therefore, this is a disorder with which an individual stops breathing while asleep. The most common reason for this pause in breathing is an obstruction of the airway (collapsed throat muscles, enlarged tonsils, etc). This is referred to as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Many people living with OSA do not realize they have it and remain undiagnosed and untreated for years. Some choose to rationalize their exhaustion through their busy way of life or a demanding job. Most frequently, bed partners are the ones who realize that something is not right. OSA patients can wake up more than 30 times per hour, in severe cases, gasping for air. This will often prompt bed partners to suggest a trip to the doctor.
This disorder has been linked to many other serious health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and stroke.
What Are the Types of Sleep Apnea?
Know the different types of this medical condition to best understand your diagnosis and treatment:
- Obstructive: caused when your airway closes while you sleep
- Central: caused when the brain briefly stops sending signals to the muscles that control breathing
- Mixed or Complex: This is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
OSA occurs when throat muscles periodically relax during sleep, closing the airway and causing breathing to stop. These episodes are called apneas and if frequent enough, can interrupt healthy sleep.
Central Sleep Apnea
Unlike OSA which occurs in the airway, central sleep apnea begins in the brain. When the brain signals necessary for breathing are interrupted periodically, breathing stops.
Mixed or Complex Sleep Apnea
Some patients may experience a combination of OSA and central sleep apnea, meaning that the problem occurs both in the brain and in the throat muscles.
How Do You Know If You Have Sleep Apnea?
This disorder is often related to snoring, but snoring is only one symptom. Look for a variety of red flags that may indicate sleep apnea. It requires a proper medical diagnosis. To see if you may be at risk, consult your doctor, or take a one-minute questionnaire. If your doctor thinks you may have OSA, they may write a referral for a sleep study. Traditional sleep studies usually take place in overnight labs, but more frequently, patients are turning to at-home sleep testing.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Night Symptoms (Sleeping habits)
- Frequent occurrences where you awake gasping for air
- Loud snoring throughout the night
- Daytime drowsiness
- Morning headaches and dry mouth
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or focusing during the day
Sleep Apnea Diagnosis
Home Sleep Apnea Test
You can get a sleep apnea diagnosis in the comfort of your own bed with an at-home test. At Sleep Care Online you receive at-home sleep apnea testing that includes expert consultation and access to treatment all without visiting a doctor’s office.
Polysomnography is a clinical sleep study conducted away from home. Sleep technicians monitor your sleep overnight using diagnostics ranging from brain wave analysis to eye movement. This more intensive sleep testing may be necessary for diagnosing more complex cases of this condition.
Health Risk Factors Associated with Sleep Apnea
Living with this condition untreated for any length of time may be compromising your health. This disorder causes sleep deprivation which impacts both your physical and mental well-being.
Physical Health and Sleep Apnea
Long-term health issues from lack of healthy sleep include:
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart problems
Mental Health and Sleep Apnea
Your mental health is also impacted which may lead to:
- Memory problems
How to Fix Sleep Apnea?
OSA can be managed through lifestyle changes and PAP therapy. In some instances, oral appliances or surgery can help correct the problem.
A regular exercise program can improve sleep quality. Walking for 45-60 minutes per day, light jogging, or moderate resistance training can all help improve sleep quality as well as overall health.
- Exercise during the day helps prepare the body for healthy sleep at night
Reduced Smoking and Drinking
For those who already experience these episodes, both smoking and drinking can increase the severity of your symptoms, and possibly make your condition worse. Try reducing the amount of alcohol you consume and cutting back on tobacco use to see some improvements in your symptoms.
- Quitting smoking can alleviate the inflammation in the throat lining that can cause apneas
- Quitting drinking eliminates the stimulative effects of alcohol which can disrupt healthy sleep
One of the primary comorbidities associated with sleep apnea is obesity. As more fat accumulates around the neck and throat, the greater the chances of your airway collapsing as you sleep. Improving your diet and losing even a small amount of weight can lead to great improvements in your condition.
- Reducing weight can also reduce the fatty tissue around the neck which also contributes to OSA
Other Lifestyle Changes
Making other lifestyle changes such as diet, reducing stress, and adhering to your PAP therapy can help reduce the symptoms of this disorder.
- A healthier diet can help you lose weight which improves healthy sleep
- Meditation and other practices to reduce stress can help you sleep better
- Staying CPAP compliant helps prevent apneas for a more peaceful rest every night
How to Treat Sleep Apnea
PAP, or therapy or positive airways therapy, is the most common method for treating sleep apnea. Doctors may also recommend oral appliances and surgery when PAP therapy is not enough.
Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) Therapy
PAP therapy is available in three different ways:
- CPAP (continuous positive air pressure)-uses a continuous air pressure flow from a CPAP machine to keep your airway open while you sleep.
- APAP ( automatic positive air pressure)- uses an adjusting air pressure flow that adapts to breathing needs. APAP machines may be necessary for more complex conditions or for patients who have difficulty with CPAP.
- BiPAP (bi-level positive air pressure) uses two pressure levels during inhalation and exhalation to better adapt to specific breathing needs.
For mild cases of sleep apnea, an oral appliance worn at night helps prevent the tongue from blocking the throat to prevent apneas.
Surgery is another option for sleep apnea patients. By removing or repositioning tissues around the throat, doctors can eliminate the cause of sleep apnea. Surgery may be recommended in cases where patients are born with abnormalities in throat tissue structure.