One of the most common sleeping disorders which cause breathing stops during sleep is known as sleep apnea. This condition makes the individual’s breathing stop and start due to a blocked airway or a signaling problem in the brain. A person might not know that they have sleep apnea as the breathing might stop unknowingly during sleep. However, when the breathing starts again and the airway is opened, a person might take a deep breath, snort, or awaken completely with a sensation of choking, gasping or smothering. If untreated, this condition can trigger a number of health complications, including depression and heart disease. Moreover, due to sleep apnea, a person might feel drowsy, which can increase the risk of accidents while working or driving.
It is estimated that 1 in 5 adults have symptoms of sleep apnea and that about 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. However, it is believed that only 20 percent of people who have sleep apnea are actually diagnosed and treated for sleep apnea.
Hence, we decided to make an ultimate guide for sleep apnea, which will help you learn more about this sleeping disorder, how to recognize it, and everything there is to know about it.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
There are a number of symptoms which indicate that a person might have sleep apnea. However, the most common symptom seems to be snoring. Even though most of the people aren’t aware that they have this sleeping disorder, some people seem to notice a sudden awakening due to the need to gasps or grunt. Hence, if you experience excessive daytime sleepiness, it might mean that your sleep is interrupted at night.
Additionally, other possible symptoms of sleep apnea include restless sleep, waking up a number of times to urinate, morning headache, heartburn, irritability, difficulty concentrating, waking up with a sore throat or dry mouth, and decreased libido and erectile dysfunction. Likewise, if a person has a large neck circumference (greater than 17 inches for men, and greater than 15 inches for women), they are susceptible to developing sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea Causes
The blocking or collapsing of the airway might happen due to various factors. Some of the most common causes of sleep apnea are physical obstructions, muscular changes, and brain function.
The airflow might be restricted due to excessive fat or extra thickened tissue around the airway. Consequently, the air which squeezes past can trigger loud snoring, which is usually associated with obstructive sleep apnea.
During sleep, the muscles which keep the airway open relax, and together with the tongue they cause the airway to narrow. This relaxation doesn’t usually cause any trouble, such as preventing the air flow out of the lungs, but it does in people who have sleep apnea.
In sleep apnea, there is a malfunction in the control and rhythm of breathing due to a fault in the neurological controls. This is a common symptom of central sleep apnea, which is usually associated with an underlying medical condition, including the use of pain relief medication, stroke, or recent ascent to high altitude.
The snoring and the breathing stop for about 10-20 seconds when the airway becomes completely blocked. Then, the brain awakes and signals the muscles to tighten and return the airflow. It is this pause in breathing which is known as apnea. These instances of breathing pauses can happen hundreds of times throughout the night and the person who experiences them might not be aware that the issue exists.
Some of the most common factors for sleep apnea include obesity, recent weight gain, smoking, genetics, recessed chin, large tonsils, menopause, supine sleeping, a large neck circumference, and Down syndrome. Even though in most cases sleep apnea is hereditary, your lifestyle choices can also increase the risk of developing this sleeping disorder.
Sleep Apnea Types
There are three types of this sleeping disorder, including obstructive, central and complex sleep apnea. Let’s take a closer look at them and learn everything there is to know about each type.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleeping disorder. It is usually caused by a blockage of the airway and happens when the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses during sleep. Consequently, pauses in breathing, as well as, loud snoring occurs. Moreover, obstructive sleep apnea can also appear when the facial bones and the skull are developing, which leads to a small mouth and the tongue is too large.
Central Sleep Apnea
This type of sleeping disorder is completely different than obstructive sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe because of the instability in the respiratory control center.
Complex Sleep Apnea
This type of sleep apnea is a combination of the first two types. What happens with complex sleep apnea is the fact that a person is not aware that they have this issue until someone else notices it. It affects people of both sexes and all age groups. Complex sleep apnea leads to low testosterone levels. Luckily, it can be managed with proper treatment.
Sleep apnea is one of those sleep disorders which has been linked with a vast number of other conditions and complications. So, sleep apnea might be a culprit for mood changes, chronic fatigue, increased risk of mortality, memory issues, stroke, metabolic syndrome, motor vehicle accidents, headaches, impaired cognition, hypertension, glaucoma, and dry mouth.
How To Diagnose Sleep Apnea
In order to get a proper diagnosis, you should see a specialist in the sleep medicine profession, who is experienced and knowledgeable about this sleeping disorder. Moreover, the sleep specialist should take a closer look at your medical history and perform testing and physical examinations. So, if you experience excessive fatigue throughout the day, you need to consult a medical provider who will determine the cause and the necessary steps.
There are several questions which the medical provider can ask you, including questions about your family’s medical history, your sleeping and working schedule, snoring incidence, and your sleeping environment. Moreover, the specialist might also measure your pressure and neck size.
The tests which can determine whether or no you have sleep apnea are usually performed either in a sleep laboratory or at home. The sleep laboratory testing is done via a sleep study known as nocturnal polysomnography. This sleep study measures your heart rhythm and rate, blood oxygen levels, body positions, airflow, duration of sleep stages, brain waves, and movement of limbs. Then, the test is interpreted by a physician who specializes in sleep disorders.
On the other hand, you can also opt for a home sleep apnea testing. This kind of testing is done in the comfort of your home with the help of a testing machine or monitor. This is an excellent alternative which is an option only for people who have no other conditions. The home sleep apnea testing shows the number of apnea episodes which help determine the severity of the sleep apnea. So, having 0-5 apnea episodes per hour means that your condition is normal. However, if there are over 30 episodes per hour the sleep apnea is severe.
Additionally, there are other tests which can help diagnose sleep apnea, including electroencephalogram, electromyogram, electrocardiogram, electro-oculogram and nasal airflow sensor. The Electroencephalogram or EEG measures the brain wave activity, the electromyogram (EMG) measures the muscle activity to determine the presence of REM stage sleep, electrocardiogram or ECG monitors the heart rhythm and rate, the electro-oculogram (EOG) determines the eye movements, while the nasal airflow sensor records airflow.
Sleep Apnea Treatments
As soon as the sleep specialist determines that you have sleep apnea, they are likely to suggest some kinds of treatment. Using a proper treatment can help you ease the severity of the condition, eliminate the symptoms, as well as, reduce the long-term health consequences. Here are some of the best possible treatments if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
Continuous positive airway pressure, or mostly known as CPAP, is one of the best possible treatments for sleep apnea. A CPAP is a mechanical device which keeps your upper airway open while sleeping with the use of air pressure. In order to use this device, you will need to place an attachment that’s airtight on the nose, such as a mask, which is connected to a blower and tube that creates the pressure. Prior to using this device, it has to be tested in a sleep lab. Moreover, the provider has to set the right pressure, but there are also auto devices which self-adjust the pressure. Using CPAP might be uncomfortable and bothersome at first, but the sooner you realize how beneficial it is, the better your condition will be.
However, if you cannot get used to CPAP machine or you simply cannot tolerate it, there are other alternative options, such as dental devices. The oral devices can help you reposition the jaw and relieve the obstruction by bringing the tongue and soft palate forward. These dental devices do not only reduce the severity of your sleep apnea, but they also reduce snoring.
This is a kind of treatment which you will probably find strange, but essential oils are a great treatment for your sleep apnea and reducing snoring. Hence, using essential oils, such as thyme, lemon oil, peppermint, and lavender can help you with this sleeping disorder. However, if you decide to use essential oils as a treatment, make sure you use only pure essential oils. They will also help you relieve stress, promote sleep and relaxation.
As we already mentioned, obesity is a major risk factor for sleep apnea. Thus, shedding some extra pounds might actually be quite helpful for this sleeping disorder. So, you can lose some weight by exercising, dieting, or surgical treatments. It’s especially important to maintain your weight and prevent weight gain if you want to ease some of the symptoms associated with sleep apnea.
Adjusting Sleep Position
It is believed that you can find relief from sleep apnea and snoring by adjusting your sleep position. You might not know, but sleeping on your back actually makes things worse. Thus, try sleeping on your side instead. If this seems like a challenging task, get some supportive pillows or a comfortable mattress to help you.
Avoid Alcohol and Medication
This is not an actual treatment, but rather advice which will help you get at least some relief. In fact, you should avoid any kind of alcohol and certain types of medication, especially before going to bed. So, avoid drinking alcohol and using anti-anxiety medications or other sedating medications, which can increase your risk for blocked airways.
Sleep apnea is a challenging and bothersome condition to live with, especially if you don’t know you have it or if you haven’t been diagnosed. This condition doesn’t always come with snoring, which means that it can be hard to recognize it. So, if you happen to notice any of the symptoms we mentioned, make sure you consult a health practitioner who will further refer you to a sleep specialist. Knowing that you have the condition and getting the best possible treatment will help you ease the symptoms and learn how to live with the condition.