Sleep apnea is a scary thing. And it is a very common condition. More than 18 million Americans suffer from this condition, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
What is Sleep Apnea?
It is when a person stops breathing while they’re sleeping for 10 seconds to a minute or longer. And it’s not only once, it can happen repeatedly during the night, causing blood-oxygen levels to dip and putting a strain on the heart. They may stop breathing anywhere from a few times a night up to hundreds of times a night! These periods of not breathing can seriously disturb your sleep—even if they don’t fully wake you up. When this happens, the quality of sleep decreases and a whole slew of medical problems may arise.
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea and complex sleep apnea.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea—the most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by the upper throat muscles relaxing, which makes the airway narrow and close. Then, normal breathing resumes with a choking sound or snort. People with sleep apnea tend to snore loudly.
- Central Sleep Apnea—this type is when the brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles that control breathing.
- Complex Sleep Apnea—when a person has both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause serious health problems including heart failure, stroke and high blood pressure.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms & Warning Signs
Common symptoms of sleep apnea may include:
- Snoring—snoring is one of the most obvious signs of sleep apnea and is often loud and disruptive.
- Frequent breaks in breathing—these breathing breaks are often followed by gasping or choking noises as the body’s respiratory systems works to fight through the blockage.
- Restless sleep—since the brain and body is constantly awakened throughout the night, sleep apnea can cause a fitful sleep.
- Irritability & depression—not getting a good night’s sleep over and over can wreak havoc on a person’s mental health. Sleep apnea sufferers often find themselves feeling short-tempered or depressed.
- Headaches—waking up with headaches can be caused by the loss of oxygen in the bloodstream that flows to your brain as a result of the irregular breathing at night.
- Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Attention problems
- Sleep apnea is closely associated with heart problems including irregular heart rhythms, strokes and high blood pressure.
Sleep apnea may also affect the bed partner since snoring and breaks in breathing may keep them awake resulting in insomnia and its associated symptoms.
Sleep Apnea Causes & Risk Factors
Excess Weight. Fat deposits around your upper airway may obstruct breathing leading to restrictions in airflow as the upper respiratory system’s pathway is pinched off or narrowed during sleep.
Smoking. If you smoke, you’re three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than those people who’ve never smoked. Smoking irritates the throat, lungs and esophagus and may increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway which can impede airflow.
Age. As we age, muscles begin to lose muscle tone.The same thing goes for the muscles in the throat. Those muscles become weaker and are more likely to collapse into the airways during sleep.
Family History. You may be at increased risk for sleep apnea if you have family members with it.
Frequent Alcohol Use. Alcohol relaxes all the muscles in the body, including the throat muscles. They may relax to the point of blocking the airway during sleep.
Being Male. Men are twice as likely to have sleep apnea. Women increase their risk of sleep apnea if they’re overweight or after menopause.
Can Sleep Apnea Be Prevented or Treated?
Sleep Apnea is a serious condition and one that should not be ignored. If you or someone you know has it, it’s important to get treatment. Don’t disregard loud snoring—especially snoring that’s punctuated by periods of silence. Talk to your doctor about any sleep issue that leaves you irritable and always tired. Lifestyle changes, breathing devices and mouthpieces can treat sleep apnea in many people.
There are some things you can do to avoid sleep apnea altogether:
- Don’t smoke
- Lose weight if you are overweight
- Don’t use sleep medications or drink alcohol
- Try sleeping on your side instead of your back
Functional Medicine can help with sleep apnea
At LifeScape Premier we practice functional medicine. We don’t want to just treat your symptoms, we want to discover the root cause of them so we can treat your condition. In most cases, being tired is just a symptom. Let us help you get your life back on track by figuring out why you’re always tired and then working together with you to develop and execute on a solution.
Schedule an appointment for a functional medicine consult with LifeScape Premier today.
References: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/20/health/sleep-apnea-explainer/index.html, http://www.alaskasleep.com/blog/types-of-sleep-apnea-explained-obstructive-central-mixed, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/basics/symptoms/con-20020286