Do you sometimes wake up with a dry throat, gasping for air? It might be more than just snoring; you may be suffering from sleep apnea, especially if you’re a man.
While it’s kind of you to give ear plugs to everyone in your family, there are other options…
Sleep apnea is like free diving: both involve holding your breath, though in one case it’s intentional. With sleep apnea, you stop breathing for anywhere between 10 and 30 seconds, until your brain has a “Whoa!” reaction and gets you breathing again. When your blood lacks oxygen, you don’t wake up fully, but just enough to take a breath with a resounding snorting sound.
Serious sleep apnea can have you repeating the exercise up to 400 times a night, so it’s no surprise that you don’t benefit from a normal sleep cycle. The results include deterioration of cognitive functions, memory loss, lower libido, fatigue and sleepiness to the point where you’re a danger behind the wheel and you run a greater risk of having a workplace accident.
Types of sleep apnea
There are two types of sleep apnea:
- The most common form, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), is caused when the tissues in the throat collapse, blocking the respiratory tract during sleep.
- Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain forgets to send a signal to the muscles involved in breathing. This form of the condition is neurological in origin and in some cases can be corrected through chiropractic or osteopathic treatments.
Figures and risk factors
Sleep apnea affects around 3% of people 18 or over and 5% of those aged 45 or over. The condition is approximately twice as prevalent in men than women. Children and adolescents may also suffer from it, and when they do, their grades suffer because they are often exhausted.
The risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea are:
- Overweight or obese (BMI of over 35 kg/m)
- Over 50 years of age
- Neck circumference of over 43 cm (40 cm for women)
- Large tonsils, large tongue or narrow jaw
- Frequent acid reflux
- Nasal obstruction caused by a deviated septum, allergies or sinus congestion
In addition to the health effects described above, suffering from sleep apnea can also increase the risk of contracting other chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. The symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are also exacerbated by sleep apnea, as are mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder, mania, etc.).
- The greatest risk factor you can control is your weight. Eighty-nine percent of people who suffer from sleep apnea are either overweight or obese. Adopting a balanced diet and exercising regularly to lose weight can have a positive effect on sleep quality. Even losing a little weight can reduce the severity of your sleep apnea.
- Don’t sleep on your back! When you’re on your side, your breathing pathways are less likely to get obstructed. Certain types of pillows make sleeping on your side more comfortable. For a cheap and effective solution, use tennis balls! This simple method involves putting tennis balls in a sock, which you can pin to the back of your pajamas using safety pins; the idea is to make lying on your back uncomfortable.
- Avoid alcohol and sleeping pills, which have a relaxing effect on the throat muscles, thereby aggravating sleep apnea. Smoking also has negative effects on sleep apnea, as smoke irritates the lining of the respiratory tract, causing them to become inflamed.
- Treat your allergies! Allergic symptoms are often expressed through the palate, nose and sinuses, in all cases aggravating obstructive sleep apnea.
- A dentist or orthodontist can take an impression of your teeth to create a dental appliancethat keeps your jaw and tongue in a position that frees up your respiratory passage as you sleep. This method is effective in mild cases of sleep apnea.
- Your doctor may prescribe a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine which uses a mask placed over your nose to push air into your nose forcefully enough to keep your respiratory passages open.
By taking good care of yourself, your health and your weight, you’ll be doing something great for your family so that they too can sleep better!