So, you’ve been feeling overly tired during waking hours, despite the fact that you think you’ve gotten a “reasonable” amount of sleep lately? Well, there may be a problem… a fairly dangerous problem… that you don’t know about: sleep apnea. And it happens more often, and to more people than you may even realize. It might even be happening to you.
What is it?
Sleep apnea is a disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is inhibited or otherwise interrupted during sleep. As many as 18 million people worldwide struggle with this disorder, but it is estimated that a staggering 90% of them don’t even know. Some of these unwitting sufferers may attribute their depletion of energy to working too hard, playing too hard, not eating right, not getting enough exercise, missing out on vitamins, or simply “getting older”… and so they often look no further into solving the riddle of why they might feel so horrible. Little do they know their undiagnosed sleep apnea may be causing them to stop breathing, for 8 seconds or longer at a time, sometimes dozens of times a night. The result is that the brain (and the body) may be deprived of precious oxygen. Night after night, year after year, the damage done by sleep apnea can increase health problems ten-fold.
What kinds of sleep apnea are there?
There are two types of sleep apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). Of the two, Obstructive Sleep Apnea is more common, and is usually caused by blockage of the airway by the soft tissue at the back of the throat which “relaxes” during sleep.
Central Sleep Apnea, unlike OSA, is not at all caused by breathing blockages in the throat or airway. In this disorder, the brain actually fails to trigger the muscles to breathe.
What are the causes?
Obstructive Sleep Apnea can be caused by any number of conditions:
• Males, more often than females, tend to suffer more from this disorder
• Being over the age of 40
• Being overweight
• Having a family history
• Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men, 16 inches or greater in women)
• Large tonsils or tongue
• Small jaw bone
• Sinus problems, nasal obstructions, or allergies
• Gastroesophageal reflux (also known as GERD) cpap cleaners
Central Sleep Apnea, on the other hand, can be more difficult to diagnose and treat, and there is one form of CSA which presents no known cause. Any of the above causes for OSA can also be seen in CSA (though the age of onset is closer to 65), and additional causes of CSA include:
• Congestive heart failure
• Kidney failure
• Hypothyroid disease
• Neurological diseases (such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and ALS)
What are the treatments?
An official diagnosis (including your specific type) might require seeing a sleep specialist, using a take-home sleep test with a portable monitor, or putting in an overnight stay at a sleep clinic. Once you’ve been diagnosed, though, you may be prescribed several different treatments or remedies, both natural (“self-help”) and medical.
• Lose weight (even a small amount can open up the tissues surrounding the throat)
• Stop smoking (the chemicals have been shown to cause inflammation of the throat and upper airway)
• Avoid any type of muscle relaxant (such as alcohol and sedatives, as they can relax the muscles of the throat too much, causing blockages)
• Try to become more consistent with a sleep regimen (apnea has been seen to significantly decrease in those who get more than 7 hours of sleep per night)
• Sleep on your side (your throat, tongue and soft tissues are not subjected to the forces of gravity and pulled into the airway as much when lying on your side)
• Elevate your head (by raising your head 4-6 inches, your airway will be kept clear)
• Unclog nasal passages (using saline or other nasal sprays, breathing strips, or devices such as a “neti pot”)
For the more serious forms of Central Sleep Apnea, doctors may:
• Start by treating the underlying medical conditions (such as kidney failure and congestive heart failure)
• Prescribe a supplemental oxygen source when sleeping
• A breathing devices (such as a C-PAP machine) that will assist your breathing while asleep.