If you had to scuba dive without any equipment, consider sleep apnea to be such a distressing ailment – where you can breathe only intermittently, but have to keep coming up for air. In this case, you have to keep waking up from sleep for breathing!
In medical terms, sleep apnea is a chronic disorder that causes difficulty in breathing while you sleep. Your breathing may stop as many as hundreds of times a night, jolting you out of your sleep, sapping your energy and spirit for the day to come. Over time, it can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. The good news is that once you make an effort to understand the type of sleep apnea you have (yes, there are more than one types), you can make lifestyle changes and also seek treatment, as and if needed.
Middle-aged men are more likely to develop sleep apnea than women. Women are more susceptible after they reach menopause.
Here are six things you should know about, to begin with:
The most common type of sleep apnea is “obstructive”, which occurs when the throat muscles become blocked while sleeping. Another type of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, happens when the brain and the muscles that control breathing have a disconnect. Sometimes both the apneas can occur simultaneously and lead to a condition called complex sleep apnea syndrome.
Central sleep apnea is more common in people with medical conditions such as heart disorders and medications. Obstructive apnea, on the other hand, affects overweight people, the other factors being large tonsils or narrow airways, genetics, smoking, alcohol or nasal congestion. As per the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, half of the people suffering from this condition are overweight. Even though not everyone with sleep apnea has weight issues, losing weight may be a way to ease the symptoms, if one is overweight.
Contrary to common belief, loud snoring isn’t the only sign of sleep apnea. Excessive sleepiness during the daytime comes as an obvious part of the package. Morning headaches, dry mouth and mood swings and trouble focusing may also point to sleep apnea.
If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to dangerous complications, including high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, irregular heartbeat, heart failure and more. One, naturally, is then more likely to also have metabolic syndrome, too, which refers to a collection of health risk factors that increase your risk for diabetes and heart concerns—high fasting blood sugar, stomach fat, high triglycerides, low good cholesterol.
Your doctor would be able to advise you on whether you can go without treatment, as long as you make smart lifestyle changes. Avoid sleeping on their backs, and also cut down on soft drinks, alcohol, cigarettes and sleeping pills. Heavy drinking worsens the condition because of muscle relaxation.
This condition is ignored often as it happens when you are unconscious and people aren’t able to link feeling sleepy in the daytime and having sleep apnea. If you suspect you may have this condition, snoring is an important clue. Stay observant.