Do you feel fatigued even after a full night’s sleep? Is your throat dry when you wake in the morning? Does your partner or significant other complain about your loud snoring? Do you wake in the middle of the night gasping for air or coughing? Has anyone in your immediate family been diagnosed with sleep apnea?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, there is a chance you have sleep apnea. The good news? There are several ways to diagnose and treat your sleep apnea symptoms so you can return to having a successful snooze. For severe symptoms, please visit with your primary care doctor to confirm and seek treatment.
We have all heard that a healthy diet and regular exercise are essential to your cardiovascular health, but did you know the quality of sleep you receive each night is also important for your heart’s wellbeing?
Sleep apnea is a harmful sleep disorder and a silent one at that. In other words, you might not even know you have this common problem. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, sleep apnea occurs when your upper airway muscles relax during sleep and pinches off your airway. This then prevents you from receiving enough oxygen and your breathing may pause for short periods of time. After about 10 seconds, your reflexes kick in and your breathing restarts, but this interrupted pattern in your breathing can have a significant impact on your physical health. Undiagnosed sleep apnea can cause an increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic health issues, including heart disease and diabetes.
There are two kinds of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when air cannot flow, even though you are trying to breathe. Meanwhile, central sleep apnea (which is less common) is when the brain fails to send signals to your muscles to make you start breathing.
While obese individuals are at a higher risk, sleep apnea symptoms can plague any person of any size. About 3% of normal-weight individuals and 20% of obese people have sleep apnea.
The terrifying aspect of sleep apnea is that you may not know you have it. Commonly, your partner or significant other will notice your sleep apnea symptoms before you do.
Most likely your partner will complain of your loud snoring or might notice that your breathing pauses. That being said, snoring does not always equate to sleep apnea. This is why we highly recommend being evaluated if sleep apnea runs in your family or if you notice sleep apnea symptoms.
This sleep disorder can appear in many different ways but some of the most common sleep apnea symptoms you might notice include:
If you experience any of these sleep apnea symptoms on a consistent basis, it is critical to visit your primary care doctor as soon as possible for further evaluation. You will likely be referred to a sleep disorder center where a specialist will help you determine the next steps.
Evaluation often includes overnight monitoring at the sleep disorder center to track and analyze your breathing and bodily functions during sleep. Sometimes, home testing can be an option as well to measure your blood oxygen level, heart rate, airflow, and breathing patterns.
For more information on receiving a better night’s sleep, check out our blog 5 Research-Based Tips for Better Sleep Every Night.
After evaluating your sleep apnea symptoms, there are a variety of treatments your doctor or sleep specialist may recommend. For milder cases, simple lifestyle changes might be recommended such as quitting smoking, diet and exercise, or treatment for nasal allergies.
If these measures do not improve your sleep apnea symptoms, your doctor may prescribe a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask or even surgery if necessary.
A CPAP mask delivers air pressure to keep your upper airway passages open while you sleep. While this mask is one of the most reliable and common methods of treatment, many people find the mask uncomfortable and inconvenient. However, it is critical to continue using the mask; test out different types of masks to find one that is comfortable and works for you. If you still struggle with the mask, check with your doctor to see what changes or alternatives you can try.
Once you determine you have sleep apnea, it is important to explore your different options. In most cases, you probably did not know you had this sleep disorder and it can be a significant adjustment to your nighttime routine. Request that your doctor outline all of your options to determine the most suitable treatment.
Here are a few questions you should ask to help educate yourself and prepare for treatment:
In efforts to prevent the long-term effects of sleep apnea, there are several healthy habits you can implement in your everyday life to help mitigate your risk.
Here are a few lifestyle changes that we recommend, however, be sure to speak with your primary care provider before making any significant changes in your daily diet or exercise routine:
Want to learn breathing exercises and techniques to foster better sleep patterns? Download our free guide!