Understanding Sleep Apnea and What You Can Do about It
Summary: Sleep apnea affects many people without them knowing they even have it, making it one of the biggest health epidemics affecting people all over the world. It is often linked to other health problems and increased health care costs. This blog talks about how better to understand sleep apnea and how to help yourself if you are concerned that sleep apnea is a problem for you.
Sleep apnea can be a dangerous condition that can have serious consequences on health if the sufferer is not aware of the problem. As the word ‘apnea’ means ‘without breath,’ then sleep apnea is sleeping without breathing, and that is as concerning as it sounds. The sleeper wakes frequently to take a breath and then falls asleep again until the next desperate breath is sought. Sometimes these disruptions in the sleeping pattern can happen as many as 30 or 40 times an hour, which certainly makes for a restless night.
A Health Canada Survey of 2009 reported that many Canadians are affected by sleep apnea. Sometimes people don’t even know that they have it, or that they are not aware of the seriousness of the condition.
How do you know if you have it? People with sleep apnea snore loudly and disturbingly as they snort and sputter to catch their breath and wake themselves in their sleep. Often, people with apnea are alerted to it by the people sleeping close to them. Snoring and sleep apnea are closely linked, although there are many other reasons for snoring as well. Other signs of sleep apnea are excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches, or a dry mouth.
What happens? In an obstructive sleep apnea sufferer, while sleeping, the tongue rests on the soft palate which collapses against the back of the throat blocking the airway passage. Attempting to breathe through this block causes the snoring sound. At other times, although the airway is not constricted, the brain can forget to breathe while asleep, and so the sleeper doesn’t breathe for a few minutes, until they gasp and sputter to catch breath, before sleeping again.
There are some risk factors for sleep apnea that lead to a stereotypical idea of a sufferer. People expect a slightly older, overweight male who smokes and drinks and otherwise has poor health, high blood pressure, or sinus issues to be at risk, but sleep apnea can affect anyone, increasing the risk of other health issues that require a good quality sleep to improve.
What can you do? There are lifestyle changes that can be done to improve the quality of your sleep, and sleep apnea can be lessened by losing weight, cutting down on smoking and alcohol, and by doing breathing exercises to strengthen the air passages. Don’t use sedatives to help you sleep as they may make it more difficult for you to wake up when you need to.
Whether or not one has sleep apnea must be diagnosed through a sleep study in a sleep lab to determine how many apnea incidents are experienced through the night, but once diagnosed, a sleep specialist can determine the best treatment. Breathing devices such as a continuous positive airway pressure machine can keep the airways open while you sleep, or a mouthpiece can be fitted comfortably to keep the mouth slightly open at night. For those with a more serious condition, there is surgery than can be performed.
For a better understanding of sleep apnea and to find out which solution might be right for you, consult a sleep specialist at CPAP Solutions Inc. for advice and solutions.