Sleep

Everything you need to know about sleep apnea

Author: Canadian Living

Sleep

Everything you need to know about sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops for at least 10 seconds at least 15 times per hour during sleep. It’s often accompanied by loud snoring and is considered to be a major cause of exhaustion during the day. Short of your spouse guessing that you have the condition, daytime sleepiness is one of the biggest symptomatic tip-offs to sleep apnea. On the extreme end, sleep apnea can cause you to wake abruptly gasping for air. In some cases it does not wake you but continues to cause blood oxygen levels to decline – often significantly – throughout the night; suffocating the heart, the brain, and all of the body’s cells. Each spell sets off alarms (take a breath!) making it all but impossible to move beyond the very lightest stage of non­rapid eye movement sleep – forget about vivid dreaming! Studies of apnea demonstrate that it’s associated with dominance of the sympathetic nervous system, which places stress on the heart, too. 

The causes of sleep apnea are varied. It has a strong genetic component (if a parent has apnea, you have a 40 per cent chance of getting it), most likely due to inherited traits in the anatomy of the neck and pharynx that make it harder to keep the airway open during sleep. It’s more common in men and its frequency rises with age. Drinking alcohol and sleeping on your back can trigger the problem. By far the most common cause is obesity, which increases the risk of developing apnea by more than 1000 per cent! Excess body weight puts pressure on the throat and prevents it from opening enough to facilitate breathing. Up to 70 per cent of people with obesity have sleep apnea. Having an underactive (hypo)thyroid can be a hidden cause of sleep apnea, and when treated, sleep apnea often also clears.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of apnea are pretty far-ranging, from frequent awakening, daytime exhaustion, poor memory, and loud snoring (about 10 percent of habitual snorers have apnea). The health consequences can be devastating, including a significant increased risk of hypertension and heart attacks. For example, many people who have uncontrolled high blood pressure – for which medications seem not to work well – actually have sleep apnea as the cause. A continuous lack of oxygen during sleep can precipitate an acute heart attack. If you have any of the symptoms of apnea you should consider being evaluated by a sleep medicine specialist – hopefully before you have a heart attack.


Page 1 of 2 - - On page 2, learn how to beat sleep apnea.



Excerpted from The Source, copyright 2008 by Woodson Merrell. Used by permission of Random House Canada.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.

Treatments and prevention
If you have sleep apnea, it is possible to receive a prescription for a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP). This device is placed over your nose and mouth and produces positive pressure (like a vacuum cleaner on reverse) that forces open your airway and causes more oxygen to flow into your upper airways and lungs. By stopping the drop in oxygen levels and frequent wakening, the device allows your body to pass through all the cycles of sleep. CPAP has been shown to conserve sleep energy and improve daytime energy levels.

Oral appliances – which you can obtain from a dentist – to reposition the jaw muscle and tongue and increase the airwave space can be almost as effective as CPAP in moderate apnea; and people tend to prefer the less invasive nature of an appliance compared to the CPAP device. Surgery should be the last option, and would only be useful for anatomical defects of genetic origin.

Before going for these big-gun prescription devices, however, there are a few changes you can make in your sleep habits that may reduce, or even resolve, sleep apnea.

Lose weight. It is dramatically beneficial for sleep apnea; a 10 per cent weight loss produces a 26 per cent reduction in apnea.

• Reduce alcohol intake, especially later in the evening. Alcohol can over-relax the muscles in the throat and pharynx and contribute to their collapse.

• Elevate your head by 30 degrees ( pillow specialty stores sell wedges to place under your head) to reduce the force of gravity on your throat.

• Switch to sleeping on your side instead of your back, again to avoid the forces of gravity. Use a pillow as a bolster to hold onto and help keep you in the side sleeping position.

• Tenacious back sleepers can try the sleep ball technique, in which you actually attach a tennis ball to the seat of your pajamas to prevent you from sleeping on your back.

Page 2 of 2 -- Could you be suffering from sleep apnea? Learn more on page 1.





Excerpted from The Source, copyright 2008 by Woodson Merrell. Used by permission of Random House Canada.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.
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Everything you need to know about sleep apnea

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