According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, sleep apnea affects 22 million Americans. It is most common in overweight men over 40, but it can affect anyone.
There are three types of sleep apnea – obstructive, central, and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage of the airway while central sleep apnea is caused by a failure of the brain to signal the muscles to breathe. Mixed is a combination of the two. Each time the individual is affected by this lack of air, they are awakened partially to continue breathing. This causes a poor quality of sleep. It is linked to depression, heart disease, and diabetes if left untreated. How do you know if you have sleep apnea, and what do you take care of yourself if you do?
Causes of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is caused by a variety of biological and environmental factors. According to The National Sleep Foundation, a small upper airway, large tonsils, or a large uvula can increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea. Obesity, a recessed chin, small jaw, large overbite, large neck, smoking and alcohol use, being over 40, being Hispanic or African American, and having a genetic propensity for sleep apnea are all risk factors for developing the condition as well.
Symptoms include loud snoring, obesity, daytime sleepiness, frequent night awakenings out of breath, and waking in the morning with a dry mouth or headache. Men over the age of 40 who are also overweight are at the biggest risk for developing sleep apnea, but it can affect anyone, even children.
Treating Your Sleep
There is no way to know for sure if you have sleep apnea without being tested. If you suspect you have it, see your doctor. You may need to stay overnight for a sleep study so your sleep functions can be monitored. Once diagnosed, the most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP). The CPAP is a mask that fits over the nose and mouth and blows air into the airway passage during sleep.
Coping and Curing
While the CPAP can treat symptoms, there are ways to potentially cure your sleep apnea. If you are overweight, losing weight could be the only change you need to make. Other helpful lifestyle changes are to avoid alcohol, which causes nighttime awakenings, and quit smoking. Smoking worsens the upper airway obstruction. You can also try sleeping on your side instead of your back.
Sleep apnea doesn’t have to severely alter your life, but it is important to treat it to avoid potentially life threatening symptoms. When treated and taken care of, sufferers of the condition can live long and healthy lives. If you are worried that you may suffer from sleep apnea, see a doctor and start sleeping healthier today.