Sleep apnea is an obstructive sleep disorder that causes you to stop and start breathing multiple times throughout the night. The older you are, the higher the risk of sleep apnea. It does not just mean you snore often, and snoring does not always mean you have sleep apnea. “About 45% of men and 30% of women snore on a regular basis” (WebMD). Sleep apnea comes with other symptoms, that when joined by snoring, should be discussed with a physician.
If sleep apnea is not treated, it can put you at serious risk of multiple health problems. This disorder causes people to lose sleep, which can increase risk of depression and car accidents. When the body is interrupted from sleep up to 400 times a night, it causes stress hormones to release. If you are exposed to these hormones over a long period of time, the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke becomes higher.
Sleep apnea is also linked to obesity. When fat builds in the throat, it causes the airways to become smaller which leads to airway obstruction. This can also lead to hormonal changes that cause you to be hungrier and gain weight.
CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines are designed to help with sleep apnea. These are prescribed after an overnight sleep study is performed. Their function is to circulate a “constant stream of air through the nose which keeps the airways from collapsing” (WebMD). CPAPs drastically reduce symptoms of sleep apnea and the risk of health problems.
There are a few options that help with sleep apnea.
- Sleeping on your side and propping your head up help keep airways open
- Weight loss
- CPAP machines
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco and sleeping pills-these cause the airway muscles to relax and collapse, which blocks the airways. Smoking is an irritant which can cause airway inflammation.
If you are concerned you may have sleep apnea, talk with your partner to find out if you have symptoms. They are the ones who will notice if you’re waking up (and waking them up) by snoring, gasping and if your breathing stops and starts again. Once you have documented your symptoms, contact your physician for further testing and treatment. You do not have to suffer from sleep apnea!