Sleep Apnea: Are You At Risk?
You start your day after a full night’s sleep, but by lunchtime you’re nodding off. Why do you still feel so tired? You may have sleep apnea. And unless your bed partner constantly wakes you in the night because of your incessant snoring, you likely don’t even know you have a problem.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. It occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, despite efforts to breathe. This condition can lead to difficulty concentrating, depression, irritability, learning and memory difficulties, and falling asleep while at work, on the phone, or driving. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to hypertension, heart disease, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia or stroke.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
If you think you may have sleep apnea, ask your bed partner if he or she has noticed you snoring heavily, gasping, choking or stopping breathing during sleep. If the answer is yes, visit your doctor to assess your condition. A sleep study is one of the most common methods used to identify sleep apnea. Usually performed at a sleep center, this process monitors your sleep state, eye movement, heart rate, muscle activity, airflow, respiratory performance, and blood oxygen levels.
A continuous positive airway pressure device (or CPAP) is a highly effective treatment for sleep apnea. CPAP is a mask that fits over your nose and/or mouth, gently blowing air into your airway to help keep it open while you sleep. Another method of treatment includes dental instruments which are used to shift the tongue and lower jaw. This approach is most helpful for mild sleep apnea or heavy snoring.
Combatting Sleep Apnea
To help reduce the severity of sleep apnea, the following lifestyle changes may be effective:
- Weight loss. Losing weight is the most important action an overweight person can take to cure sleep apnea.
- A change in sleeping position. For those with mild sleep apnea or heavy snoring, a shift in sleeping position – such as lying on their sides instead of their backs – can lead to fewer breathing problems.
- Reduction in alcohol consumption. Alcohol intake before sleep can cause frequent nighttime awakenings, and makes the upper airway breathing muscles relax. Mitigating alcohol consumption can alleviate these issues.
- Smoking cessation. Swelling in the upper airway occurs with cigarette smoking, making snoring worse. Kicking the habit can make a big difference in your quality of sleep.
If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, contact us for a consultation. We look forward to hearing from you!