How Do You Know If You Have Sleep Apnea?
You may think you had a full eight hours of uninterrupted sleep last night, but you might still feel exhausted.
If your partner tells you about some of your loud snoring or abrupt wakeups throughout the night, you probably shouldn’t laugh it off. You could suffer from sleep apnea and not even know it.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common medical condition that repeatedly interrupts breathing during sleep.
Breathing obstruction caused by sleep apnea can occur when there is repeated blockage to the upper airways during sleep or when the brain signals misfire. Episodes typically last 10 to 30 seconds.
The severity of sleep apnea can range on a spectrum from mild to moderate to severe.
The Common Types and Causes of Sleep Apnea
The three most common types of sleep apnea are obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea. Keep reading below to understand what causes of each of these sleep apnea types.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea and occurs when the muscles in the throat relax during sleep.
When the muscles collapse, your airway narrows, inhibiting the ability to take a full breath and lowering the oxygen level in your blood. Your brain realizes that the oxygen levels are insufficient and sends signals to your body to wake up and reopen the airway.
This cycle may repeat several times an hour during sleep and cause your body to wake up as often as every couple of minutes.
Patients who suffer from this type of sleep apnea may be unaware of their constant sleep interruptions and think they slept peacefully through the night.
Central Sleep Apnea
Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain doesn’t send the right signals to the breathing muscles. It is less common than obstructive sleep apnea. It means that there are brief moments where you don’t breathe.
Breathing will recommence after a few seconds, but you may jolt awake with shortness of breath.
Complex Sleep Apnea
Complex sleep apnea syndrome occurs when a person has both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea can be the cause of loud snoring but not all sufferers of sleep apnea snore. During sleep, breathing may stop intermittently; another person usually witnesses this as opposed to the sleeper themselves.
Even after a full night’s sleep, you can still feel exhausted or have a headache in the morning. Through the night, you may wake abruptly and have shortness of breath, dry mouth, or a sore throat.
Other sleep issues may affect you such as insomnia or excessive sleepiness during the day. In the case of excessive drowsiness, it’s possible to fall asleep throughout the day—possibly in the midst of an activity such as working, reading, or driving.
Sleep apnea can also affect your ability to pay attention and alter your mood, leaving you more irritable.
Sleep Apnea Risk Factors
Risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea can include:
- Weight: excess weight may leave fat deposits in your upper airway which can hinder breathing.
- Sex: males are more likely to have sleep apnea than females.
- Age: sleep apnea is more apparent in middle-aged and older adults.
- Nasal Congestion: any obstruction that causes nasal congestion, from allergies to anatomy, may contribute to the development in sleep apnea.
- Substance use: muscles relaxants such as alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers can relax the throat muscles. Smoking also increases the inflammation in the upper airway.
- Family history: sleep apnea risk increases if you have family members with the condition.
- Narrowed airway: you may have been born with a naturally narrow airway. In children, sleep apnea may be found in those with enlarged tonsils or adenoids which block the airway.
Shortness of breath is an uncomfortable condition (or a symptom) that makes it difficult to fully get air into your lungs.
Risk factors for central sleep apnea can include:
- Heart disorders: congestive heart failure creates more risk for central sleep apnea.
- Narcotic Pain Medications: use of opioid medications increase the risk for central sleep apnea.
Treatment of Sleep Apnea
Be sure to get a proper diagnosis from your physician, and they will advise you of the best solution for your particular case of sleep apnea.
Diagnosis may involve a sleep study, which monitors several functions during your sleep state and determines a sleep apnea diagnosis and severity of the condition.
The most common and effective treatment for sleep apnea is using a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine. This device involves wearing a mask over the nose and mouth that keeps the airway open, stops snoring, and ensures constant breathing.
A more aggressive treatment plan is implantation of a stimulator in the patient’s chest which connects to the nerve that controls tongue movement. The sensor triggers the nerve to move the tongue if breathing patterns are interrupted.
Other treatments can include dental appliances and surgery to remove tissue in the upper airway.
Can Sleep Apnea be Prevented?
While there isn’t necessarily a way to cure sleep apnea, there are some recommendations you can try to reduce your sleep apnea symptoms.
For mild cases of sleep apnea, minor lifestyle changes may remove the symptoms entirely. Be sure to exercise as it will contribute to weight loss and encourage healthy sleep. Losing excess weight can also reduce the number of sleep episodes that occur.
Keep yourself to a sleep schedule, going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day can ensure you get the right kind of sleep and prevent you from getting overtired.
Give up habits such as smoking, alcohol, and sleeping pills. If you have a hard time falling asleep, try some chamomile tea, warm bath, or reading.
If sleep apnea is left untreated, it can contribute to high blood pressure, heart issues, stroke, depression, and decreased sexual function. Without proper sleep, you put yourself at risk for work-related injury, or motor vehicle accidents.
Keep yourself healthy by taking care of your sleep apnea and getting the quality and quantity of sleep you need. A good night’s sleep will have you feeling like a better, more energized version of yourself.