Have you been tossing and turning in your bed lately? Have your family members been complaining that you have been snoring in the middle of the night, waking up everyone? Not to forget, you hardly feel rested after a night full of fitful sleep. And it’s not been one stray incident here and there, it’s been happening every single night.
The symptoms seem vaguely similar, but have you been able to put a name to it? Well, it is sleep apnea. It is a sleeping disorder, a condition where your breathing gets disrupted in sleep.
With these symptoms, it not only your sleep which gets affected, you also run the risk of incurring diseases in the near future. The symptoms of this condition are more common than you’d like to believe. Do you have it and don’t know about it?
A Few Uncommon Facts about Sleep Apnea
Take a look at some of the facts about sleep apnea.
Many people have sleep apnea but don’t know it
Most often sleep apnea remain undiagnosed. This is particularly true for people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, this occurs when your airway is blocked in the middle of your sleep, and there are many men and women who suffer from it. It has risen alarmingly in recent times thanks to the rising obesity rates. But the point is, in most cases, it remains undiagnosed.
You may snore even when you are not overweight
Well, we think that only overweight people snore. But though obesity may turn out to be one of the major reasons for sleep apnea, there is another reason that you may start with this condition, age. Especially after menopause, women are likely to be as affected as men.
There are symptoms such as fatigue and depression
Why do sleep apnea symptoms go unnoticed? The symptoms are broad and far too many. Symptoms such as fatigue, depression, a dry mouth, trouble concentrating, sore throat and so on are just some of them. Sometimes when you suffer from one or more of the above symptoms, you do not respond to treatment of those symptoms, but your problem gets resolved when the sleep problem is addressed.
Sleep apnea is not merely a sleep problem
If you are suffering from sleep disturbances, the problem is not restricted to it alone, it gives way to several more health complications such as stroke, heart attack, diabetes and so on.
So, it is important that if you suddenly stop breathing while sleeping or your spouse notices that, you need to take the matter to your doctor.
You can control the symptoms
There are various ways you can treat sleep apnea. If obesity is one of the reasons, try and reduce weight, you can also start making some serious lifestyle changes such as avoiding alcohol and sedatives. Make sure you change your sleeping habits as well. While for some people sleeping on the back works, for some others you need to start therapy known as PAP (Positive Airway Pressure). This therapy involves wearing a sleep apnea mask that promotes airflow during sleep. This is something that you need to follow with diligence to get any results. There are some people who may not be able to follow this theory, they can try other therapies such as including oral appliances, surgery of the upper airway and, hypoglossal nerve stimulation and so on.
Different Types of Sleep Apnea
Why do you have sleep apnea? There are many reasons that stop your breathing while you sleep. You may have a blocked airway or there may be a problem in sending signals to your brain. Most people suffering from this condition suffer from the first kind better known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and sleep apnea resulting from a signaling problem is called central sleep apnea (CSA).
In this condition, some people stop breathing repeatedly while they sleep. When the airway is opened and you receive the breathing signal, the person may make a snorting noise, then a deep breath or he/she may be forced to wake up completely and then start to smother, gasp or choke.
If this condition remains untreated, it can gradually lead to heart disease and also depression. Because you may not have enough sleep at night, you may feel drowsy in the morning and may even have problems while driving, which may lead to accidents.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
While you know that the most common symptom of sleep apnea is snoring, there are other symptoms too. While you may not always be able to keep a tab on the symptoms, your spouse and partner may bring it to your notice. While gasping, grunting and then getting back to sleep is one of the defining symptoms, there are other additional symptoms, and they are the following,
- Restlessness or insomnia
- Loud snoring
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Waking up several times at night to urinate
- You wake up with either a dry mouth or a sore throat
- You have a nagging headache in the morning
- You suffer from heartburn
- You are irritable
- You suffer from decreased libido and erectile dysfunction.
Beware if you have a large neck circumference, that is 17 inches for men and more than 15 inches for women. People with larger neck circumference are more susceptible to sleep apnea.
What Leads to Sleep Apnea? Sleep Apnea Causes
You have been sleeping peacefully, so what makes you gasp and choke and wake up in the middle of the night? There are a number of reasons why you end up with the choking feeling.
- Muscular changes: Ideally, when people sleep, the muscles and airway tend to narrow as it relaxes. This flow of air does not allow it to move in and out of the lungs, but the opposite happens when it comes to sleep apnea.
- Obstructions in the middle – Sometimes there are obstructions in the middle in the form of thickened tissue or excessive fat stores around the airway and this obstructs the airflow, and if some air manages to move past, it may lead to loud snoring.
- Brain function – In central sleep apnea or (CSA), the neurological controls for breathing do not work the way they are supposed to, impacting the control and rhythm of breathing. CSA is sometimes linked to specific medical conditions such as stroke or heart failure, recent, climbing up to high altitudes in the recent past and usage of pain-relieving medication.
Sometimes, due to complete blockage, the breathing stops for a period of 10-20 seconds, or when the brain recognizes the apnea and enables the flow of air once more. This slight pause is what is commonly known as apnea.
So, if you have started snoring are you suffering from sleep apnea? Not necessarily, not everyone who snores suffers from sleep apnea, and the opposite of this is also true. So, how can you find out whether you suffer from the condition? There is a simple way of finding this out. How do you feel the next morning? Keep a tab on that, if you do not feel tired the next morning, you are probably not suffering from the condition.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
Diagnosed with sleep apnea? Don’t get scared as there are many sleep apnea treatment options. As soon as you recognize the symptoms of sleep apnea, you can treat it with the right lifestyle changes. While lifestyle changes may not act as a replacement to conventional treatment, it may complement the treatment. Check out some of the lifestyle changes mentioned below to treat the condition right at its onset.
- Lose weight – The extra fat around the throat of overweight people can restrict the airway and stop the flow of air into the lungs. A little amount of weight loss can open up your throat and improve the conditions.
- Quit smoking – Smoking contributes to sleep apnea as it increases inflammation in the body and increases fluid retention in your throat and the upper airway.
- Avoid sedatives – Avoid things like sedatives and alcohol just before bedtime, as they put pressure on your throat muscles and obstruct your breathing.
- Increase your activity levels – Regular and quality sleep can help you lose weight and impact your sleep quality. Aerobic exercise and resistance training are particularly effective in reducing the symptoms, and yoga helps toughen up the muscles in your airways and also helps improve breathing.
- Stop caffeine consumption in the later part of the day – Besides tea and coffee, also avoid heavy meals right before you sleep.
- Stick to a sleeping schedule – A regular sleep schedule can help you relax, and the quality of sleep automatically improves.
Sleep Apnea Remedies – Quick Tips that Actually Work!
Having trouble falling asleep? The following tips work great, try them:
- Sleep on one side – Sleeping on the back can enable your tongue and soft tissues to block your airway. It’s a strange but true fact that some people suffer from sleep apnea only when they lie on their back.
- The tennis ball hack – One of the most effective sleep apnea remedies is to use a tennis ball to stop yourself from rolling onto your back while you sleep. You can use a tennis ball sewed into a pocket on the back of your pajama top. Or take the help of a wedge, a pillow that is stuffed with tennis balls, this would protect you from rolling right over on your back again.
- Prop your head up – Sleep keeping your head in an elevated position. At least 4 – 6 inches of elevation works fine!
- Use a nasal dilator – Nasal dilators, saline sprays, and a neti pot all help opening up your nasal passage. Try using a chewing gum that tightens, keeping your mouth closed. You can even hold a pen between your teeth for ten minutes before bedtime, do this till your jaws start aching. This is one of the more effective sleep apnea solutions.
- Try exercising your vocal chords – That’s right, singing enables greater control to your throat and soft palate. This helps control sleep conditions such as sleep apnea.
- Throat exercises – You can strengthen the airway muscles and reduce the severity of sleep apnea by performing throat exercises. It will take time before they show any results. Here are a few exercises that you can do.
Try these exercises:
- First press the floor of your mouth with your tongue and brush the top and sides with a toothbrush. Keep brushing for as many as five times and brush three times a day.
- Press the length of the tongue against the roof of your mouth and hold it for at least three minutes a day.
- Place one finger into one side of your mouth. Keep the finger against your cheek while you try to pull the cheek muscle in at same time. Repeat it 10 times, rest it out and then try alternate sides. Do this exercise at least three times.
- Pout your lips to kiss. Keep holding them tightly together then move them left and right, then up and down at least 10 times. Repeat this entire sequence at least three times.
- The filling up the balloon exercise also works great. As you try to inflate it as much as possible, you exercise your airway muscles. Try repeating the entire exercise five times at least.
- Gargle with warm water and a pinch of salt for five minutes, twice a day. It is one of the more holistic sleep apnea cures.
- Hold your tongue through your teeth and in that position, try to swallow five times. Repeat this entire exercise at least five times a day.
While making lifestyle changes is one of the first treatment options you should try in sleep apnea, there are other treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea include such as a CPAP machine. Find out more about them.
- Dental devices
- Other breathing devices
What is CPAP? CPAP or the Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) is one of the most common treatments that has the potential to treat moderate to obstructive sleep apnea. This sleep apnea mask machine covers up your nose and mouth, which provides a constant stream of air to keep your nasal passages obstruction-free so that you can sleep without a hitch.
If you have tried the CPAP machine without success and gave it up owing to discomfort, it is time you gave it a thorough look again. CPAP technology is not what it was a few years back, it is constantly getting better, and so what did not work for you then, may work for you now! Yes, the new versions of the machine, are new and improved and lighter, catering to your comfort levels. You will see results in a few days giving a great fillip to both your mental and physical energy.
Get Comfortable with the CPAP Machine
Yes, it isn’t easy using a CPAP device while you sleep. While just falling into the bed and slipping into sleep mode is ideal, you may have to get used to the fact that you need a machine to sleep. Once you get over the mental block, try getting used to the machine with a few tips and tricks. Just think this way, it is helping you sleep, it cannot be that bad.
- Ensure that the CPAP device fits you snugly. Keep your doctor in the loop to find out whether you are making any progress.
- Don’t force yourself into it, rather ease your way into it. Use the machine for short periods first and then gradually increase the time. Try the ‘ramp setting’ to increase the air pressure.
- Fix the mask, tubing, and straps in a way that it can provide a customized Use nasal pillows to minimize discomfort. Chinstraps help keep your mouth closed and minimizes throat irritation.
- You can also CPAP devices that have a built-in humidifier to ease off skin
- Keep the CPAP gear clean, this ensures maximum comfort.
- If the noise of the CPAP machine bothers you, try and smother it. Keep it beneath your bed.
Use Other Breathing Devices
In addition to CPAP, there are other devices to help you such as expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP) and single-use devices such as Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP or BPAP) devices can be used for patients who are unable to adapt to CPAP. This device helps you adjust the pressure while you’re sleeping. Adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) is another device that helps combat central sleep apnea as well as obstructive sleep apnea. This ASV device stores information about your specific breathing pattern, this controls the airflow pressure to prevent the pauses in the breathing.
Most sleep apnea devices, specifically dental devices are acrylic and fit into your mouth, it acts like an athletic mouth guard. There are other devices that fit into your head and chin to adjust the position your lower jaw. There are other oral devices such as the mandibular repositioning device and the tongue retaining device. Though teeth devices may help you sleep better, they may not be as effective for treating severe sleep apnea, and there are some side-effects to it such as nausea, saliva build up, soreness or damage to the position of your jaw, teeth, and mouth.
Sleep Apnea Implants
One of the newest treatments, sleep apnea implants involve inserting a pacemaker system that stimulates muscles to keep airways open so you can breathe while you sleep. The new treatment has been approved by the FDA in the U.S. and people with moderate to severe sleep apnea can treat it with implants. The technique is new and is gaining ground as an effective sleep apnea cure.
The other and probably last option is surgery, it can increase the size of your airway and you will reduce the instances of sleep apnea.
Here, the surgeon removes adenoids, tonsils, or excess tissue at the back of the throat or right inside the nose, reconstructing the jaw and opening up the upper airway. However, this can be considered as a last resort as sometimes surgeries instead of fixing the problem can lead to more severe complications.
Sleep Apnea in Children
While sleep apnea is considered to be more of a condition that affects adults, sleep apnea is not very uncommon in children. Some sleep apnea symptoms in children are as follows,
- A pause in breathing while sleeping followed by a snort, or gasp.
- The children suffering from sleep apnea have a tendency to sleep in strange positions.
- They suffer from other symptoms such as bedwetting, excessive perspiration or night terrors.
- Children feel fatigued and sleepy during the daytime.
- Suffer from behavioral issues and their performance at class suffers.
Children suffer from sleep apnea because of some specific reasons such as,
- Enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
- Weight issues
Sometimes your doctor may recommend removal of the tonsils to correct the problem. You as a parent play a big role in helping your child combat the problem, providing constant support and encouragement to help your child get back to health and fitness in good time.
Sleep apnea is becoming a common problem today, the best way to deal with it is to recognize the symptoms early and contact a sleep doctor as soon as you can, this will help minimize the symptoms and deal with the problem right at the very onset.