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The term ‘apnea’ refers to the obstruction in breathing. During sleep apnea, your respiratory muscles stop working for a very brief moment when you’re in deep sleep. When your brain detects the lack of oxygen, it wakes you up enough to take a deep breath.
But, how do you explain loud snoring?
While a person may snore for many reasons, it’s the most common symptom of sleep apnea. The snoring associated with sleep apnea is uncomfortable, and restricts breathing.
Once you pay attention to the symptoms, you might find out that you or a loved one is suffering from sleep apnea. It often goes misdiagnosed because doctors think you are stressed or hypertensive, thus depriving people of the treatment they need.
A study of 600+ middle-aged adults in America discovered that 9% of women and 24% of men were suffering from sleep disordered-breathing. Data from various studies in the United States suggests that the prevalence of sleep apnea has increased in the past two decades.
37 million Americans have this disorder. 25 million Americans are facing serious health issues because sleep apnea is slowing down their normal body functions.
Most of these issues arise because of a busy lifestyle that challenges a person’s ability to have proper sleep.
Sleep apnea is of three types, and each differs symptoms and causes. Let’s take a look at how common they are and which is the most dangerous of all three.
This is the most common type of sleep apnea, and it affects 4% of men and 2% of women.
In Obstructive Sleep Apnea, your stop breathing for a little while, during your sleep. If you don’t breathe, you don’t get enough Oxygen into your body. Lack of Oxygen alerts your brain and you wake up, gasping for air.
As you start breathing again, your body returns to a normal state and you go back into slumber. Until you stop breathing again, and wake up with a shock.
Experts believe that Obstructive Sleep Apnea leads to the risk of stroke, hypertension or death.
Signs and symptoms of OSA include:
This process may repeat a few times or a dozen times during the sleep cycle. This constant disturbance causes tiredness in the body. OSA episodes during a night can range from 5 to 30.
Your weight may have a direct relationship with OSA. Excess fat around your neck narrows your throat and obstructs the respiratory passage.
Smoking is another risky habit that preys on your health. It causes inflammation in the airways and restricts air flow to the nose.
Some people get OSA due to their body type. For example, people with narrow necks have a higher chance of getting OSA. People with an enlarged tongue also report problems of the tongue falling backwards.
Age-related muscle weakness or enlarged tonsils also disrupt smooth air flow during deep sleep. Genetic predisposition may also put you at risk for OSA.
In this type of sleep apnea, your brain does not send signals to your body to breathe. Unlike OSA where there’s a physical obstruction in airways, Central Sleep Apnea is triggered by the way your brain functions.
This kind of apnea is caused by some severe mental or physical illness. It can affect people of all ages, even newborns. It is much less common and experts believe that the number of CSA cases are 20% or even less.
Signs and symptoms of Central Sleep Apnea include:
Your gender may be the biggest risk factor for CSA. Men are more susceptible than women. Age is also a huge factor in your chances of developing CSA.
Some medical conditions can also lead to CSA, such as heart disease or brain tumor. Other life-altering health conditions like surgery or consuming opioid medicines are also a significant risk factor.
You may temporarily develop CSA if you move to a high altitude but it commonly disappears once you return.
Mayo Clinic conducted a study of 223 patients for OSA, where 15% of the subjects showed symptoms for both OSA and CSA. A patient of MSA showed signs of sleep apnea, even when they were treated.
Signs and symptoms of MSA were under consideration by experts, and most of these signs had a link with lower levels of oxygen in the lungs of patients.
Anyone can get sleep apnea. However, some people are more at risk compared to others.
People who have a history of stroke, heart failure or a congenital condition are more likely to develop difficulties in breathing during the night.
A history of nasal irritation, weak pharyngeal muscles or a vocal cord injury, further increases the chances of developing OSA.
Tishler, Larkin, Schluchter and Redline found out in a 2008 study that risks of OSA varied by gender. In men, weight was a risk factor for OSA while in women, age was the most important risk factor.
Scientists tried to establish in the Busselton Health Study whether sleep apnea was an all-cause mortality risk, and found out that patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea were at higher risk. Mild apnea was not associated with all-cause mortality.
According to a study from the year 2000 in American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, children between the ages of 2 to 18 years showed risk factors like sinus, asthma, wheezing, and cough. These signs caused severe breathing issues during the night and contributed to sleep apnea.
Most importantly, sleep apnea has different effects on people who inherited the risk factors. It was concluded in the study that there is still much to do in this field to save children from staying undiagnosed and find better treatment for those who undergo sleep apnea.
So, how do you know if you have sleep apnea, and what type of sleep apnea are your suffering from?
If you think you have sleep apnea, it is important to note the symptoms at home. Firstly, you have to alert people around you to keep an eye on your sleeping pattern. They can tell you whether you’re snoring loudly or if you stop breathing and then gasp for air in your sleep.
Keeping a journal is also helpful for your doctor speed up the diagnosis.
The most common markers of obstruction during sleep are:
The American Sleep Apnea Association have a bunch of resources and self-help tests on their website that can help you understand your condition better.
If you suspect sleep apnea, visit one of the best sleep clinics near you and get help from experts there. Diagnosis is easy and may require a sleep study.
Before ordering any tests, your doctor will rule out any other health complications to land an accurate result.
Your doctor will need to know about your sleep habits, your lifestyle and the symptoms that are bothering you. So, it’s better to take your spouse or family member and a sleep diary if you have maintained it.
Here is what the doctor may ask you about:
Your doctor may check your neck circumference, size and structure of your jaw, and position of your tongue to rule out or understand any physical causes for your symptoms.
Next, he can check the condition of your lungs, heart and neurological system to rule out common risk factors of apnea through physical examination.
Blood tests will also be done to check hormonal levels and their effect on the quality of your sleep.
If your doctor deems fit, he may advise a study called polysomnogram, to get a visual representation of your sleep cycle. It is ideally performed in a hospital’s sleep centre or a private clinic.
For tests, you go to a clinic and describe your condition. The technician places electrodes on your body that detect brain waves. The whole process gets recorded in the machine. The sleep expert will read this data and use it to diagnose your disorder.
The Polysomnogram is an electronic test that saves important information about your body during sleep cycle. A specialist will receive this information to analyze your sleep quality and find out the traces of apnea.
You may even have another type of breathing disorder. That’s why a Polysomnogram is effective and convenient. It involves placing surface electrodes on the body, face and chest to record signals. These touchpoints check your organs and their condition as you sleep.
Other advances tests in sleep labs include:
Once diagnosed, the treatment for sleep apnea is pretty easy and straightforward. Your physician will treat the root cause of your condition, depending on the type and severity of sleep apnea.
For mild conditions, your doctor will suggest some lifestyle changes for a healthy body and mind.
If you smoke, you will be advised to quit smoking. If you can’t battle smoking urges, you may be referred to a cardiovascular or respiratory department that can help you cope.
You will be asked to lose weight to burn the fat around your throat and overall body and include healthy diet and exercise in your daily routine. Yoga is the most effective for people coping with sleep apnea. The doctor will also ask you to quit taking pills or related medicine.
You will be suggested certain positions that help with breathing better. The environment around the room also has a huge role in the quality of your sleep. For example, the optimum temperature is 60-67 degrees.
For moderate to severe cases of sleep apnea, lifestyle changes may not be enough. Doctors will suggest therapy to such patients to improve their sleep.
CPAP involves using a machine that regulates air pressure through a mask in your body. CPAP is good enough to keep the pressure on your air passage ways and keep them open throughout the night.
However, some people find the machine uncomfortable, especially older adults. In this case, you should consult with your doctor to find a mask fit that is most suitable to breathe.
Don’t give up on the CPAP machine in one or two uses. You just have to practice and find a fit that works best for you. Pressure changes in machine and mask weight can be altered if you still have the problem of snoring with CPAP machine.
Many patients find other bi-level air pressure machines more suitable. These machines keep changing the airflow as you are breathing inside. Bi-level machines provide more pressure when you breathe in and less when you are breathing out. Auto-CPAP machines are also suggested to patients who need constant adjustment of air pressure during the night.
Doctors also suggest oral devices to patients. These devices can keep your throat open as you sleep.
In severe cases where a physical condition is obstructing smooth air flow, surgery is prescribed by the physician. In this case, CPAP or other therapies don’t work on the patient and fixing the physical issue is required.
Doctors try therapies for three months before opting to perform surgery on the patient. If someone suggests surgery firsthand, you should opt for a second opinion.
Various surgeries are available for sleep apnea, depending on your condition.
If surgery is inevitable, discuss the types of surgery with your doctor, any side effects of it and pre requirements.
Sleep Apnea is a condition that affects your quality of living. That’s why, it can have both short term and long term implications on your life, if left untreated.
Sudden loss of breathing during slumber causes low blood oxygen, and increases blood pressure. Strain on the cardiovascular system makes it weaker. This can cause chronic (lifelong) hypertension.
Prolonged sleep apnea when left untreated can turn you into a tired and sluggish person at work. Untreated sleep apnea is involved in fatal road accidents and workplace accidents.
Untreated sleep apnea, combined with obesity increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes. A study published in 2013 predicted that people with type 2 diabetes have a 50/50 chance of being diagnosed with sleep apnea because of high glucose and increased fatigue in the body.
Shhh… NO MO’ SNORING!
If you have been diagnosed with this condition and have received treatment, please know that it will require major lifestyle changes to adjust to the symptoms.
Firstly, you need to monitor your progress and report it to your doctor. Not all treatments work for everyone, so follow-up visits are essential to refine those treatments.
Your doctor may also want to know how you feel using a breathing device, what’s the condition of the device after regular usage and how to make the therapy least invasive. If you are a parent or a caregiver to someone with sleep apnea, you need to be in charge of monitoring the patient with responsibility.
Lying on an uncomfortable mattress will also cause disturbance during the night. Therefore, you should buy a mattress that supports your body during the sleep cycle and does not leave you feeling stiff in the morning.
Look for the following mattress specifications:
Look for a mattress that provides comfort to all parts of your body when lying down. A memory foam mattress or hybrid mattress that distributes body weight equally is ideal for you. Moreover, additional features like cooling gel and spinal alignment helps people build an ideal sleeping environment. Or, perhaps your doctor might advise you to sleep on your side.
Mattresses on adjustable bases can be used to maintain perfect height during sleep. They help in maintaining blood flow and provide additional support to your CPAP/BPAP machine. Shop a perfect adjustable base from the nearest mattress store.
Sleep apnea patients have to raise their head to provide constant air flow. Pillows can also be used as props to raise your upper body on the bed.
Memory Foam pillows are a good choice for sleep apnea patients. You can use two of such pillows to elevate your head. Pillows with adjustable loft support are also ideal for maintaining a perfect position when sleeping.
So, if you think you have sleep apnea, communicate it with your partner and monitor your condition for a week or more. Keep in mind that this condition has the most chances to get misdiagnosed. Don’t be afraid to ask some questions and provide accurate information to form the best diagnosis.