Sleep apnea is clearly a serious sleep disorder in which breathing frequently stops and starts. It is defined as a cutback or cessation of breathing during sleep. For example, if you snore aloud and feel easily tired even after a full night’s sleep, you may have sleep apnea. In addition, it is a sleep disorder in which delay during breathing or periods of shallow breathing occurs in the sleep more often than natural. Each pause in breathing can last between 10 to 30 seconds and can happen between 5 to 100 times per hour. They tend to happen a lot during the night. This sleep disorder can affect people of any age, even infants.
Forms of Sleep Apnea
The generally three forms of sleep apnea are obstructive apnea, central apnea, and a combination of both.
Obstructive apnea (OSA) is closely related to Alzheimer’s disease. It occurs when breathing is disrupted by an obstruction of airflow and, therefore, the airway’s collapse during sleep. This usually causes interrupted breathing and loud snoring.
On the other hand, central apnea (CSA) is usually caused by an underlying health condition, and people with central sleep apnea hardly snore. It is caused by a failure of the brain to trigger the muscles associated with breathing during sleep. As a result, people with a long period of untreated sleep apnea repeatedly stop breathing during their sleep.
Apart from those mentioned above, other various factors can contribute to the blockage or collapse of the airway. They include:
- Nasal congestion
- Lax muscles in the mouth and throat
- Thickened tissues and additional fat stores around the airway
- Underlying neurological problem
It can prove hard to identify sleep apnea on your own since the common symptoms only occur when you’re asleep. However, you can overcome this complication by asking a bed partner to observe your sleep habits. And if you don’t have a partner, you can record yourself during sleep.
The obstructive and central sleep apnea symptoms seem related, making it hard to ascertain which type you have. However, the major warning signs are pauses during snoring, where choking or gasping follows immediately after each pause.
Other symptoms include;
- Frequent and loud snoring
- Restless sleep
- Hypersomnia & fatigue
- Morning headache
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Waking up at night feeling short of breath
- Poor memory and attention
- frequent day time naps
What are the effects and complications of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea poses a serious medical condition. A lot of health conditions are associated with it, which includes high blood pressure and obesity. These conditions, coupled with the lack of sleep caused by sleep apnea, can harm countless different systems in your body. If left untreated, it can also increase the risk of health problems and others including:
Type 2 diabetes
This sleep disorder often increases your risk of having type 2 diabetes and developing insulin resistance.
High blood pressure or coronary heart problems
Having obstructive sleep apnea increases your risk of high blood pressure. In addition, people with this disorder are more likely to have a bizarre/irregular heart rhythm like atrial fibrillation, which could increase your risk of a stroke, increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. Additionally, sudden death may result from an irregular heartbeat.
People suffering from this sleep disorder are more likely to have irregular results on liver function tests, liver scarring, and excessive levels of liver enzymes. Besides that, it can also exacerbate heartburn and other symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can further disturb your sleep.
It can worsen diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by depriving your body of oxygen while asleep. It’s possible to have more trouble exercising than usual and find yourself short of breath.
Sleep apnea is closely linked with weight gain. While it can lead to weight gain, weight gain (especially in the neck region) can also exacerbate the symptoms associated with it.
Other complications include
- Pregnancy complications
- Eye disorders, such as glaucoma
- Metabolic syndrome
Treatment of Sleep Apnea
(a) Medications: some drugs such as acetazolamide, zolpidem, triazolam may help but should only be used after consultation with a sleep specialist.
(b) Sleep on your side: Lying on the back is an unfavorable position for sleep apnea patients, but lying on your side, on the other hand, helps keep your airway open.
(c) Quit smoking & Alcohol: Smoking aids sleep apnea by increasing inflammation and fluid retention in your throat.
(d) Avoid caffeine and heavy meals before sleep
(f) Use a humidifier : They’re devices that add moisture to the air
(h) Try exercises