What is Sleep Apnea?
The Greek word “apnea” literally means “without breath.” Sleep apnea is an involuntary cessation of breathing that occurs while the patient is asleep. This includes snoring, breathing pauses or choking noises during sleep.
This results in very poor sleep quality and complications that may cause serious health problems.
Sleep apnea is characterized by uncontrollable interruptions in breathing that you experience throughout the night. Most people afflicted with this disorder take shallow breaths when asleep and wake up suddenly before falling quickly back to sleep.
If you have this disorder, you may temporarily stop breathing up to 20 times an hour without remembering it the next day.
It is estimated that up to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, and as many as 18 million Americans are affected by sleep apnea each year. If left untreated, long-term complications of this disorder may occur, including the following:
- Increased risk of infectious disease
- Sexual dysfunction
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Memory problems
- Car accidents
- Poor concentration
- Getting poor grades in school or college
- Personality disturbances
- Poor work performance
- What is Sleep Apnea?
- Types of Sleep Apnea
- Risk Factors of Sleep Apnea
- Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
- Natural Treatment of Sleep Apnea
- Additional Considerations for Sleep Apnea
Types of Sleep Apnea
Many people are unaware of the fact that there are three primary types of sleep apnea. Although they all cause similar symptoms and complications, they are triggered by different factors.
Central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea are the two most common.
The two are very similar and even doctors sometimes have difficulties determining which one is the culprit.
1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
This is the most common form of the disorder and is typically caused by an abnormal relaxation of the throat muscles. It is also associated with the loudest snoring and choking sounds.
Under normal circumstances, body-regulated airflow takes place during the night and the throat muscles tense and relax parts of your esophagus and soft palate to support breathing.
An abnormal relaxation of these parts results in interrupted breathing and oxygen deprivation.
The latter triggers your brain to wake you up so that you can gasp for air and not suffer damage to your brain.
However, this pattern can lower your blood pressure and pulse to a dangerous level during the night.
2. Central Sleep Apnea
This variation of the disorder is far less common than the obstructive type; however, the two disorders are related.
Central sleep apnea takes place when your brain stops sending appropriate signals to the parts of your body that control breathing.
Individuals suffering from this type of the disorder have periods where their throat muscles simply do not contract because their brain is not sending the proper signals.
3. Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome
Complex sleep apnea syndrome is a rare form of the disorder that is actually a combination of central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea, which both occur simultaneously.
Risk Factors of Sleep Apnea
Although sleep apnea can affect essentially anyone, there are certain things that increase a person’s risk for the disorder.
For example, if you are obese you have a much higher risk for developing sleep apnea than those who maintain a normal weight.
Sleep apnea is also much more common in adults then in teenagers or children. The risk increases again after age 45.
Sleep apnea is also more common among men than women, but the reason for this is not yet known.
If you have a history of medical conditions such as thyroid disorders, autoimmune disorders, stroke, heart disease or have had multiple surgeries, you may be at a higher risk for sleep apnea.
The use of opioid analgesics and other narcotic pain medications also increases your risk of developing the condition.
Even if you have no specific risk factors, you may be genetically predisposed to sleep apnea if you have a narrow airway or abnormally large tonsils or adenoids.
These things sometimes run in families, which means there is little you can do to stop the development of the condition. Rather, you must simply take measures to ensure it does not affect your quality of life.
Finally, smoking cigarettes, using alcohol and taking sleeping pills all contribute to a heightened risk for sleep apnea.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Missing sleep has the potential to take years off your life and sleep apnea is associated with a broad range of complications in addition to those listed above.
Eventually, it can weaken your immune system, which can make you susceptible to autoimmune disorders and even cancer.
Because many people believe sleep apnea is simply heavy snoring, they never seek treatment or even know they have a disorder.
For this reason, it is important to understand that loud snoring is never normal, and in many cases it is merely a symptom of the stop and start breathing process associated with sleep apnea.
In certain cases, a person may even make what others refer to as choking noises, which is a hallmark sign of sleep apnea.
Snoring Versus Interrupted Breathing
Although it is possible to have sleep apnea even if you do not snore, experts state that almost everyone snores to some extent if they are suffering from the disorder.
Even though occasional light snoring is quite common among adults and typically not the sign of an underlying problem, if snoring interrupts your sleep, it is quite possibly due to sleep apnea.
One of the best ways to find some clues about your sleeping habits and whether or not they are normal is to enlist the help of your spouse, partner, or anyone else who sleeps close enough to hear you through the night.
If they notice loud snoring that disturbs their sleep quality and repeatedly wakes them up, you should probably be screened for sleep apnea.
Additionally, if someone reports that you seem to wake up startled, gasping for air or talking in your sleep, your snoring may not be at all normal.
If no one sleeps near enough to you to help you evaluate your problem, try recording your breathing sounds whenever you sleep and play them back to listen for the patterns mentioned above.
Below are some additional symptoms of sleep apnea:
• Daytime drowsiness
• Shortness of breath upon waking
• Frequent urination and night sweats
• Waking up with a sore throat, bad breath or dry mouth
• Trouble concentrating
• Struggling with additional sleep problems, including insomnia
• Becoming more irritable, depressed or anxious during the day
Natural Treatment of Sleep Apnea
Fortunately, natural treatments are available for the disorder. These include dietary supplements such as ZenSLEEP and specific lifestyle modifications including those outlined below:
1. Achieving a Healthy Weight
Obesity is a top risk factor for sleep apnea, and therefore achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is of the utmost importance.
This is because excess weight can affect your throat muscles, and ultimately your capability to breathe.
The more obese you are, the more likely it is that you will develop sleep apnea or other sleep disorders. Certain experts recommend measuring your neck circumference and collar size.
This may sound a bit odd, but medical researchers have determined that it is a very good way to help determine your risk for sleep apnea.
If you are a man with a neck circumference of more than 43 centimeters–17 inches–or a woman whose neck circumference measures more than 38 centimeters–15 inches–your risk of developing sleep apnea is significantly higher than average.
Sadly, having sleep apnea, insomnia and struggling with obesity are all part of a vicious cycle, as poor sleep patterns can interfere with your ability to lose weight.
Interestingly, not only does being overweight place you at an increased risk for sleep apnea, sleep apnea contributes to many of the same diseases associated with obesity.
Various studies and research indicate that many systems and organs of the body are adversely affected by sleep apnea.
This means that the disorder can lead to the following conditions:
• Systemic inflammation
• Insulin resistance
• Cardiovascular disease
• High blood pressure
2. Avoiding Excessive Alcohol
Using alcohol excessively has been proven to interfere with the quality of a person’s sleep.
In addition, it also relaxes the uvula, palate, and the muscles of the throat, all of which are necessary to regulate breathing.
Therefore, cutting back on the amount of alcohol you use can considerably lower your risk for sleep apnea.
3. Quitting Smoking
Smoking is dangerous to your health on many levels. It is also a factor associated with sleep apnea.
Smoking contributes to this sleeping disorder by inflaming the throat and promoting fluid retention in the nasal cavities and airways, which disturbs normal sleep patterns.
The risk of developing sleep apnea is three times higher in smokers than in non-smokers. If you are a smoker and need one more reason to quit, preventing sleep apnea is good one.If you are struggling to quit smoking, talk to your doctor about some of the newest products available to assist you in this endeavor.
If you are struggling to quit smoking, talk to your doctor about some of the newest products available to assist you in this endeavor.
4. Find an Alternative to Sedatives
Prescription tranquilizers, sedatives and over-the-counter sleep aids all provide similar effects. However, although they may temporarily help you sleep, they can lead to grogginess during the day and the worsening of sleep apnea symptoms. For this reason, use such products only temporarily or even better, use only natural supplements.
However, although they may temporarily help you sleep, they can lead to grogginess during the day and the worsening of sleep apnea symptoms. For this reason, use such products only temporarily or even better, use only natural supplements.
For this reason, use such products only temporarily or even better, use only natural supplements.
5. Treat Acid Reflux, Coughs and Congestion
Numerous individuals who suffer from heavy snoring and sleep apnea often have other health conditions that are known to interfere with normal breathing patterns, such as chronic coughing, heartburn or acid reflux.
All of these conditions are associated with congestion, which makes it difficult to breathe through the nose. If such problems are left untreated, symptoms may worsen or the development of various forms of sleep apnea may occur.
If such problems are left untreated, symptoms may worsen or the development of various forms of sleep apnea may occur.
Sleep apnea that is caused by esophageal reflux is typically the result of swelling and irritation around the throat muscles.
This is because acid that should travel to the stomach instead travels back toward the throat, causing the aforementioned symptoms. Chronic coughing, such as that seen with
Chronic coughing, such as that seen with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, may also irritate the upper airway and lead to interrupted breathing. For this reason, it is important to have
For this reason, it is important to have proper medical evaluation and treat any health condition that may contribute to sleep apnea.
6. Humidify Your Bedroom
Although not every case of sleep apnea is the same, some individuals report clearer breathing, less congestion and decreased snoring when they place a humidifier in their bedroom.
The reason for this may be the fact that humidifiers help encourage sinus drainage, thus allowing more space for air to move through your respiratory system.
Rubbing essential oils such as eucalyptus oil on your chest prior to going to bed may ease a stuffy nose and naturally open your airways. If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, check with your doctor to see if such oils may help.
7. Change Your Sleeping Position
To lessen instances of snoring and sleep interruption, try elevating your head while sleeping. Experts also suggest that sleep apnea sufferers sleep on their sides, as opposed to their backs, as back sleeping increases pressure on the wall of your throat.
The University of Maryland Medical Center encourages individuals to sleep on their side and use a pillow to keep their head slightly raised. This has been proven to lessen the frequency and severity of sleep apnea symptoms.
If your sleep apnea is severe, you may choose to sleep on your stomach as an alternative.
However, this is not a long-term solution, as chronic stomach sleeping can lead to back pain and discomfort.
8. Consider the Temporary Use of a Sleep Device or Snore Guard
Although your ultimate goal should be to resolve the underlying issues causing your sleep apnea, snoring devices may help temporarily.
A device referred to as a “snore guard” can be purchased at most local drugstores. Such a device is inserted into your mouth and helps your airways stay open by encouraging your lower jaw to maintain a slightly forward position.
Some individuals suffering from chronic snoring or sleep apnea may choose a costlier option that can be used on a permanent basis, such as a mandibular advancement device.
However, this type of device must be inserted by a dentist and although it lasts for several years, it may not appeal to those who prefer natural treatments for sleep apnea.
Additional Considerations for Sleep Apnea
You may also wish to consider visiting a sleep clinic, where licensed healthcare practitioners can investigate potential causes of your sleep apnea by tracking your symptoms.
In certain areas, you may even be compensated for participating in sleep studies and gain some valuable information in the process.
If yourself or a loved one notices that you have any of the classic sleep apnea symptoms described above or you feel irritable, drowsy or fatigued on a daily basis, it is wise to consult a doctor to see if you are suffering from sleep apnea.
Finally, always report any troubling sleep patterns to a qualified professional to rule out other diseases.