Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person has periods of interrupted or shallow breathing during sleep. This can occur hundreds of times in a night, and each interruption can last 5 to 30 seconds. Sleep apnea often goes unrecognized because the affected person has no idea that they have this problem. But sleep apnea does affect health and daily functioning. People with sleep apnea often feel fatigue but aren’t sure why.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

People of all ages can have sleep apnea, even children. However, there are certain risk factors that can make somebody more susceptible to sleep apnea which include being overweight or over the age of 65, smoking and genetics. Males also have a greater chance of developing sleep apnea versus women. Physical factors such as a deviated septum, thick neck or large tonsils can also cause sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can also have more serious causes, such as heart disease, stroke, neurological problems or spinal injuries.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea:

It can be tough to identify sleep apnea on your own, since the most prominent symptoms only occur when you’re asleep. But you can get around this difficulty by asking a bed partner to observe your sleep habits or recording yourself during sleep. Common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Chronic snoring
  • Moments of loud snoring, choking or gasping sounds during sleep
  • Lengthy pauses in breathing patterns
  • Sleepiness during the daytime
  • Dry mouth or sore throat in the morning
  • Headaches
  • Awakening during the night
  • Feeling out of breath upon awakening
  • Trouble concentrating, fatigue
  • Irritability, frustration

Treatment for Sleep Apnea

Depending on the cause and type of sleep apnea you suffer from, treatment options vary. Simple lifestyle changes can help a great deal though. For example, quit smoking, drinking excessive alcohol especially before bedtime; avoid caffeine, heavy meals in the evening and sleeping sedatives. Losing weight can also help a great deal, so implementing a healthy lifestyle is a must. This includes regular exercise and a healthy diet. Other techniques like propping your head up on a pillow, sleeping on your side and keeping nasal passages open with saline spray, nasal strips or a neti pot can help. The “tennis ball trick” is used to keep you from rolling on to your back, and is implemented by sewing a tennis ball into the back of your pajamas.

More severe cases could need medical treatment. A sleep specialist can implement an overnight sleep test to examine your sleep apnea and then recommend treatment. The Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) is a kind of treatment using a mask-like device to provide constant airflow during sleep. Other dental devices, surgeries and medications can aid in sleep apnea relief as well.

What Should You Do?

If your self-help techniques, home remedies or lifestyle changes don’t help with your sleep apnea, it’s important to see a doctor. Talk to your regular health care provider, and they can help you or recommend a sleep specialist who will help you to eliminate your frustrating problem. With a healthy lifestyle and medical assistance, you can begin to get regular, restful sleep and function optimally throughout your days.

View Resources

  • Wikipedia – Wikipedia page describing sleep apnea, treatment, etc.
  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute – Plentiful information about sleep apnea, including illustrations and video.
  • SleepApnea.org – Organization dedicated to helping those with sleep apnea with info, support groups, etc.
  • HelpGuide.org – Useful website with webpage for sleep apnea, including home remedies and medical remedies.

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