Are you sleepy during the daytime despite sleeping 7 or more hours at night? Does your spouse joke about switching bedrooms to get away from your snoring? Do you wake up with a headache or parched mouth? You might have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a life-threatening sleeping condition. In obstructive sleep apnea, the most common kind, muscles in your throat relax so far they cut off your airway. In central sleep apnea, your brain forgets to tell your body to breathe; this is more common in those over sixty.
In either case, you literally stop breathing more than 20 times each hour for up to 2 minutes. You often wake up momentarily to kickstart your breathing, but so briefly that you don???t consciously remember it. But your body does. People with sleep apnea are often so tired during the day that they start to nod off while working, talking, or even driving!
Diagnosing the Problem
Many people are tired at some point during the daytime, so sleepiness isn???t enough to diagnose sleep apnea. Loud snoring isn???t always a symptom either. Other warning signs:
- Waking up gasping for air
- Frequent headaches, especially in the morning
- Frequent nighttime urination
- Irritability or mood swings
- Brain fog
This condition is more common in the overweight and for men.
Sleep apnea can be treated, once it???s identified. Proper diagnosis can happen with either an at-home sleep tester or from overnight observation at a sleep center recommended by your doctor.
Do not ignore your sleep apnea symptoms! Sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure, low testosterone, blood sugar problems, strokes, and heart disease. Furthermore, psychological and emotional difficulties can arise, because sleep apnea interrupts normal dreaming.
How do you keep sleep apnea from giving you these horrible problems?
Treating Sleep Apnea
Once sleep apnea is identified, a number of treatments are available, including the following:
- Sleeping on your side: This helps keep the airway open much better than sleeping on your back.
- A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine: The CPAP is a very effective device which keeps the airway open by relaying pressurized air through a mask that fits snugly over the nose. It???s important that the mask fits properly, so don???t settle for one that leaves gaps between the seal and your face.
- Weight loss: I???ve had patients who lost as little as 10 pounds get relief from sleep apnea.
- An oral device: Oral devices reposition the jaw to minimize obstructions. They???re an alternative for those who dislike using a CPAP.
- Surgery: Removing tissue that may obstruct breathing is effective for about half of the patients who try it.
- Prescription medication: Prescription drugs, such as Nuvigil or Provigil, that promote alertness may help sleep apnea patients stay awake during the day. Keep in mind that these drugs have side effects that may include pain, anxiety, and sleep difficulties!
When I have a patient with sleep apnea, I recommend numbers 1, 2, and 3 first. Some people can discontinue using the CPAP after they???ve lost enough weight.
Sleep apnea is a disorder that requires attention. If you lie down for seven or more hours every night but are always tired, get tested and treated. Sleep apnea is not something that goes away or improves with time and it can shorten your life.
Happily, I can tell you that every single patient of mine who has been treated for sleep apnea reports feeling dramatically better afterward. So take my word for it, this is one condition you can get under control safely and easily, and I???m here to help.