Sleep apnea is a commonly occurring sleep disorder characterized by either a discontinuous interruption or a decrease in the depth of breathing while sleeping in an affected individual. The affected person is likely to snore loudly while they are asleep, at times waking up choking or gasping for breath to allow some air to get in their lungs. Although we all may experience a pause in our breathing some time or another, any pause in the breathing cycle lasting for more than 12 seconds or more is considered abnormal. Affected individuals are completely oblivious to such episodes of abnormal breathing unless informed so.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million Americans have been preyed upon by this sleeping disorder.
Signs That You Have Sleep Apnea
The hallmark symptoms of sleep apnea are:
- Loud snoring
- The excessive urge to sleep during the daytime
- Waking up from sleep gasping for breath with a dry mouth
Also, the affected individual may feel irritated, suffer from morning headaches, find it difficult to concentrate and sleep for a consistent duration.
Sleep apnea can deprive you of quality sleep; an essential ingredient of a healthy life. It can also affect your performance in your everyday activities. It is best to consider a professional medical review if you chance to observe these symptoms in your loved ones.
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Causes of Sleep Apnea
Although loud snoring is highlighted as the classic symptom of sleep apnea, its mere presence does not qualify the diagnosis of the sleeping disorder per se. Not everyone who snores can be categorized as a sleep apnea affected individual.
The loud noise called the snore is produced when the air you inhale while breathing in your sleep leads to the tissues in the upper airways to vibrate. However, in a person suffering from sleep apnea unlike the usual loud noises, snoring is accompanied by short pauses in breathing as a result of a blockage in the upper respiratory airways. This form of sleep apnea where the flow of air is decreased or interrupted is known as obstructive sleep apnea. Another form of sleep apnea called the central sleep apnea results when the disruptions in breathing arise due to the impairment of the function of the breathing muscles which derails the initiation of breathing.
The various reasons associated with being a cause of sleep apnea include:
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids in children
- Congestion in the nasal passages
- Abnormal anatomy of the nose, upper airways, and throat
- Old age
- Consumption of alcohol before sleep time
- Intake of certain medications such as antidepressants, or sedatives right before sleeping
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Medical Treatment of Sleep Apnea
There are several standard treatments available for sleep apnea including:
- CPAP therapy, a standard treatment that involves wearing a mask over the nose or mouth to keep the flow of air into the airways stable. This method is mostly employed to keep the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea at bay
- Use of dental appliances fitted under the supervision of dentists
- Surgery of the upper airways may also help rectify the anatomical abnormalities causing sleep apnea
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Lifestyle Changes to Help Manage Sleep Apnea
Lifestyle changes play a pivotal role in molding your health for the good. Incorporating the following lifestyle changes in your daily routine may help stave off the breathing disturbances occurring as a result of sleep apnea:
- Perform Throat and Oro-Facial Exercises
Throat and orofacial exercises are aimed at strengthening the muscles of the throat, mouth, and tongue which may help prevent any blockage in the airways allowing you to breathe smoothly while sleeping.
A study found out that 1-week routine exercise such as tongue-task training resulted in a 48% reduction in the sleep disturbances caused by obstructive sleep apnea during REM sleep.
The study also suggests that these exercises will be effective only when performed consistently. Hence practicing these exercises regularly may help curb your sleep apnea woes.
Consult your doctor if you wish to learn such exercises.
- Maintain A Healthy Body Weight
A study found that the likelihood of developing obstructive sleep apnea was two times more in severely obese and obese individuals than normal- weight adults.
Obesity has been associated with the development of sleep apnea due to the deposition of fat in the upper airways leading to interruptions in breathing. Try to eat a healthy balanced diet, limit the consumption of excess calorie and fat dense foods and exercise daily to stay within the permissible range of weight ideal for your body.
- Check Your Sleeping Position
A study has suggested that obstructive sleep apnea has been linked to sleeping in a supine position. Hence adjusting your sleeping position by switching to the sides can help reduce the associated discomfort by reducing the chances of snoring. You can also choose to reduce the chances of blocking your upper airways by elevating your head by placing a pillow under your neck.
- Abstain from Smoking
Smoking can adversely affect your respiratory system by bringing about changes in neuromuscular function, disturbing the movement of mucus and also increasing inflammation all leading to a blockage in the upper airways; a cause of obstructive sleep apnea. A study has highlighted that individuals who smoke are likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.
- Quit smoking to relieve your sleep apnea issues
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The Final Word
An adequate amount of sleep is a pre-requisite to a healthy mind and body. Thus, it is of paramount importance to get a good amount of shut-eye every night.
Although mild forms of sleep apnea can be managed, a perpetual case of sleep apnea can take a toll on your health and performance. Inculcating wise and informed lifestyle decisions as discussed above can help reduce your sleep apnea to a large extent.
If sleep apnea is causing you major discomfort by waking you up in a fit of breathlessness or making you drowsy throughout the day impeding your activities; seek professional help from a sleep specialist.