Obstructive sleep apnea (spelt apnoea in the UK) is a sleep disorder with some pretty nasty side effects. It’s also one that’s becoming increasingly common.
Sleep apnea occurs when the airway gets blocked during sleep as your throat muscles relax, preventing you from breathing. The body wakes you up to get your throat muscles working to clear the airway so you can once again breathe.
Here we’ll discover the causes, symptoms and then take a look at the treatments for Sleep Apnea and methods you can used to stop it from occurring.
Causes of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can be caused by a range of issues, but here’s by far the most common:
- Low muscle tone – This basically means your throat muscles aren’t strong enough to keep your airway open when it relaxes. This can be common with old age.
- Obesity – If you’re overweight, you’ll have thick fatty deposits in your neck. The weight of this fat is often too much for your throat muscles to handle, causing it to collapse, blocking the airway.
- Physical abnormalities – There might be something wrong in your throat physically, causing the airways to become blocked. An example of this is enlarged tonsils.
- Natural structure – Some people have thinner airways than others, making them much more susceptible to sleep apnea. Although, the main cause would likely be down to one of the above.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Here are some of the common tell tale signs that can give you an idea if you or someone you know may be suffering from sleep apnea.
Loud irregular snoring
Probably the most common symptom of sleep apnea. A loud snore is produced by the large intake of air taken once the airway becomes cleared after a sleep apnea episode.
But this is not to be confused with the slow steady rhythm caused by normal snoring. Sleep apnea snoring tends to be very irregular and is commonly associated with choking and gasping sounds as they struggle for air.
They may also moan and move around in bed, sometimes violently.
Another good sign of sleep apnea. Really bad headaches in the morning can be down to the lack of oxygen to the brain caused by the closed airway during a sleep apnea episode.
Morning headaches can also be caused by oversleeping, so be careful not to confuse them both.
Depending on the regularity of the episodes, sleep apnea can be responsible for excessive daytime sleepiness. This is because your body needs to wake you up in order to tense the throat muscles to open up the airways. And since sleep apnea in some cases can occur hundreds of times per night, there’s no chance for getting enough sleep.
For sleep to fully refresh you, it needs to enter into a deep sleep. But this takes time and requires you to be completely uninterrupted. If you’re having a sleep apnea episode every 45 minutes or so, there’s no way your body can enter this stage of sleep. Even if you get the required number of hours, the quality of your sleep wouldn’t be enough to replenish you.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
There’s a range of treatments and methods available to help reduce and in some cases completely stop sleep apnea from occurring. Since it’s becoming increasingly common, mainly due to increasing obesity levels, there’s lots of money being ploughed in for research.
Here’s a few of the treatments used today:
If your sleep apnea is caused by obesity, going on a diet and taking regular exercise can in time completely cure it. As your waist size reduces, so will the fatty deposits in your neck.
One thing to definitely avoid is large meals before bed. Not only does this keep you awake as your body digests your food, your body can’t use the food for energy so it’s forced to store it as fat, further worsening the problem.
Exercise is also a great de-stresser and has been shown to have a big positive impact on your sleep, so you get two in one!
Avoid alcohol, smoking and sleeping pills
All of these things can cause sleep apnea, or at the very least make things a lot worse.
Alcohol effects your quality of sleep, preventing you from going into a deep sleep, just like sleep apnea. It also causes your throat muscles to relax that little bit more, making loud snorers out of the quietest sleepers.
Smoking can cause your airways to become even narrower. It’ll also make exercise a lot harder if you’re trying to cure sleep apnea that way. It also acts as a stimulant so if you insist on smoking, make sure you don’t do it in the evening before bedtime.
Sleeping pills can have the same effect as alcohol in relaxing your throat muscles. Besides, unless you’re taking them short term for a really good reason, there’s really no need for sleeping pills.
Adjust your sleeping position
Some people find they only suffer from sleep apnea if they lie on their backs, so try lying on your side. Some people find it helps to use pillows against their back to make sure they don’t role over in the night. You can even get special pillows that help improve your sleeping position.
You can also try elevating your bed. This works because the gravitational force downwards is reduced, lightening the load from your neck.
Strengthen muscle tone
You can even work on the throat muscles themselves to prevent them from collapsing in the night.
Breathing exercises such as the Buteyko breathing method, yoga and playing the didgeridoo can really help Sleep Apnea.
Follow good sleep hygiene practices
Since sleep apnea can cause insomnia, it’s likely your sleep pattern will be all messed up and in need of putting right.
See your doctor
Probably the best method of treatment. Advances in sleep apnea are being made all the time, so for the most up to date information it’s best to see your doctor.
Your doctor will be able to run tests to tell for sure if you’re suffering from sleep apnea. They’ll also be able to discover the exact cause and provide you with a tailor made solution.
They can provide additional treatments such as surgery and can even supply you with a CPAP machine that pumps air into your mouth when you sleep, preventing your airways from closing.
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Sleep apnea can have some pretty serious effects and can worsen with time. Sleep apnea has been known to cause serious health problems including high blood pressure, stokes and even heart attacks. Getting it sorted can give you a new lease of life, especially if you’re suffering from the effects of sleep deprivation because of it. So it’s well worth getting it sorted out sooner rather than later.