Sleep is important. There is no denying this factor. People have known for a long time that sleep helps the body restore.
Memories from the previous day are consolidated. The body also prepares itself, both physically and mentally, for the upcoming day.
Some conditions can interfere with a person’s sleep. Insomnia is often the one to be noted here. Some conditions, however, affect a person while they are asleep. One of the more severe conditions is sleep apnea.
This condition can sometimes lead to serious adverse events in the affected person. Recognizing the symptoms is essential, but often difficult for the person experiencing the condition.
Mild sleep apnea can often be treated with at-home remedies. Medical treatment is sometimes needed for more serious cases.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a type of sleep disorder. The condition generally occurs while a person is asleep.
When a person experiences sleep apnea, they will stop breathing for short periods of time while they are sleeping. The breathing stops and is then resumed soon after. This tends to happen repeatedly during the night.
There are different types of sleep apnea that people need to be aware of. Some types are more common than others.
The specific type of sleep apnea is used to determine why a person stops breathing at night. It also helps with the development of a treatment plan.
The three main types of sleep apnea include:
- Obstructive sleep apnea osa
- Sleep apnea central
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome
What Does Sleep Apnea Sound Like?
Sleep apnea is most often noticed by a loved one, and not by the individual suffering from the condition themselves. This is because sleep apnea symptoms happen at night – while the affected person is asleep.
Snoring itself is a widespread problem among the general population.
Millions of people snore. It is important, however, to note the differences between a regular snore and snoring associated with sleep apnea.
With sleep apnea, snores are often described as “ugly” sounds – those louder snoring noises that tend to wake everyone up. The snoring will generally be followed by silence. These moments of silence are when the person affected by sleep apnea stops breathing for a few seconds.
Many people would also describe sleep apnea as a snore that sounds like a choking sound1. This sound may be present due to a collapsing of the airways in the affected person.
The collapsed airways cause the choking sound to be produced. Some people may also gasp for air during the night. This is generally due to a restriction of oxygen caused by sleep apnea.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
There are several potential causes of sleep apnea. It is important to consider factors like diabetes and sleep, for example. Existing conditions may impact sleep. At the same time, sleep apnea can also affect specific diseases.
To understand the causes behind the condition, the specific type of sleep apnea needs to be considered. The causes of central and obstructive sleep apnea can differ.
It is important to note that anyone can develop sleep apnea. Some risk factors might make a person more likely to suffer from the condition, however.
Risk factors tend to include:
- Being overweight or obese is a primary risk factor that needs to be taken seriously
- People with a thick neck tend to have a narrow airway, which acts as a risk factor
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids can also be a risk factor
- Men seem to be more likely to develop sleep apnea than women
- Age also plays a role, as the condition is more common in older individuals
- There also seems to a link to genetics – a family history may increase a person’s risk
- Alcohol may increase the likeliness of sleep apnea
- The use of tranquilizers or sedatives also play a role as risk factors
- People who smoke are at a higher risk to develop sleep apnea
- Nasal congestion is also a contributing factor
Heart disorders may increase the risk of central sleep apnea. This particular type of sleep apnea is also more common in people who had previously suffered a stroke.
What Happens During Sleep Apnea?
It is important to understand how sleep apnea affects the body.
All three types of the condition cause a person to stop breathing for a few seconds. This repeatedly happens – which is why the condition can deprive the body of oxygen.
Obstructive sleep apnea causes muscles that are located in the throat to relax. These muscles are found at the back of a person’s throat. They support the tonsils, uvula, and the throat’s sidewalls, as well as the tongue.
A relaxation of these muscles causes the airways to become narrow. In some cases, the airways close. This leads to a reduction in oxygen in the body. The brain senses the lack of oxygen. It causes a person to wake up briefly. Most people will not remember waking up, however.
With central sleep apnea, the brain does not send a signal to breathing muscles correctly. This condition is considered more dangerous. A person will not make any effort to continue breathing. Shortness of breath tends to develop — this causes the person to wake up for a short period.
Effects Of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea does not always pose a serious risk to a person’s health. At first, problems like daytime sleepiness may occur. The problem is, severe sleep apnea can become a life-threatening condition.
This is why it is critical to obtain a diagnosis and treatment if symptoms of the condition develop.
Several ways sleep apnea can adversely affect the human body. Let us look at some health effects and risks that have been linked to the presence of sleep apnea.
- People tend to experience daytime fatigue. This makes them more likely to fall asleep during the day. It can cause problems while driving, such as accidents.
- Blood pressure levels can increase. This is due to the sudden decline in oxygen in the body. The heart also needs to work much harder. The strain on blood vessels and the heart can lead to cardiovascular complications.
- Metabolic syndrome is another risk that a person faces when they suffer from sleep apnea. This can cause high blood sugar levels and increase cholesterol. It can also lead to hypertension and other conditions associated with metabolic syndrome.
- A person with severe sleep apnea may develop problems with their liver. Liver tests may signal abnormal results. There is a chance of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease too.
- Another vital factor to consider is that sleep apnea may cause the individual’s partner to be deprived of sleep. Sleep deprivation is a serious problem in the modern world. It creates a large number of potential adverse effects.
- Furthermore, sleep apnea may also cause problems with certain medications. There is also a higher risk of complications with surgical procedures in people with sleep apnea.
- Nocturia is also a condition that seems to be rather common among people who have sleep apnea2.
How Can Sleep Apnea Affect Weight And Metabolism?
Sleep apnea is associated with metabolic syndrome. This is a term that describes a range of different conditions that are common in the modern population. Metabolic syndrome tends to include diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and more.
It also seems like those with sleep apnea may be more likely to become obese. At the same time, obesity is a serious risk factor for sleep apnea. The condition could potentially harm metabolism too. Studies have shown that people with sleep apnea tend to gain more weight3. These individuals may also find it challenging to lose excess weight in their body.
Home Remedies For Sleep Apnea
There are some ways to potentially treat a less severe case of sleep apnea at home. People need to understand that sometimes, medical treatment is needed. Still, sleep apnea symptoms can potentially be improved with certain home remedies.
A few lifestyle changes can go a long way to help a person sleep better naturally – without the need for medical treatment. The idea is to achieve positive airway pressure. The airway should not collapse during the night. Getting a good night’s sleep might be possible with these lifestyle changes:
- Changing sleep positions could sometimes help. It is generally advised to sleep on the side. Some people also benefit from sleep on their abdomen4.
- Exercise is important. Exercise could potentially reduce the symptoms associated with sleep apnea. People should aim for about 30 minutes of exercise each day.
- Weight loss is critical for reducing the symptoms related to sleep apnea. Obesity is one of the major contributing factors to this particular condition.
- Avoiding alcohol could also be helpful.
- People who smoke should consider quitting the habit. Smoking has also been shown to increase the risk of sleep apnea.
- Avoiding the use of sleeping pills could potentially also be helpful.
- Throat muscles and tongue exercises may reduce the severity of sleep apnea by strengthening the muscles in the airway, making them less likely to collapse. It may take several weeks before you start to notice the benefits.
Medical Treatments For Sleep Apnea
Severe sleep apnea may require medical treatments. Individuals will need to treat sleep apnea to avoid complications if the condition gets too severe. The person may start to experience low energy, daytime sleepiness, and complications with their general well-being.
There are a few medical devices that could help. Some oral appliances can be useful. The idea of oral appliances is generally to bring the jaw forward while sleeping. This may help to open the throat. It also reduces the risk of the throat collapsing
A CPAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure) can be helpful in treating sleep apnea. These CPAP machines assist with improving breathing during the night. A mask is placed on the person’s face while they sleep. Air pressure is delivered through the mask. This helps to ensure the airways are kept open during the entire night.
In some cases, a doctor may advise a patient to undergo a surgical procedure. Tissue removal may help to open up the airways. This is useful when some obstacles are causing a narrowing of the airway, which results in airway pressure.
The procedure is called a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. Jaw repositioning is also sometimes used. The procedure also focuses on reducing the risk of an obstruction in the throat.
Other options that may be considered include tissue shrinkage surgery, the use of implants, and nerve stimulation. The specific procedure will depend on how severe the condition is.
Furthermore, the specific type of sleep apnea also needs to be taken into consideration. This is important because the underlying factors between obstructive and central sleep apnea are not the same.