If you think being asleep is a relaxation technique, think twice. Sleeping poses danger to some people who have sleeping disorder called sleep apnea. It's a condition where a person stops breathing while asleep, and it's as scary as it sounds.
Sleep apnea is a common chronic sleeping disorder wherein a person experiences one or more gaps of breathing. Literally, the heart stops beating for a few seconds and then it follows with a series of pauses of breathing lasting for at least an hour. If you are suffering from sleep apnea, you might want your partner to check on you from time to time during the course of the night. Like other disorders, sleep apnea is treatable. What can't be denied, however, is the fact that sleep apnea is also especially fatal if your family history is connected with cardiac diseases.
What happens when you suffer from sleep apnea?
When a person is under a sleep apnea attack, they will experience gaps in breathing ranging from 15 to 30 times within an hour. After this series of paused breathing, breathing will continue again regularly but with louder snoring and occasional choking. What’s frightening about sleep apnea is that it's not easily diagnosed if the person is already suffering from another sleep disorder. Most people end up dismissing the loud snoring because of fatigue or stress.
In fact, there are three types of sleep apnea – the obstructive, complex and central sleep apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: this type of sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue at the back of the throat relaxes. Once this soft tissue relaxed, it blocks the air passage in the throat. As a result, loud snoring occurs because the lungs struggle for oxygen.
Central Sleep Apnea: this type of sleep apnea is opposite to the obstructive type. There's less snoring with central sleep apnea. It mainly affects the central nervous because the brain fails to give the signal to breathe. This is actually more delicate than obstructive sleep apnea because most people assume the lack of noise is quiet sleeping, not a lack of breathing.
Complex Sleep Apnea: this type of sleep apnea is the combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea. As such, it is marked with intermittent periods of loud snoring and absolute silence - making it especially difficult to pinpoint and treat.
How do you know if you have sleep apnea?
Most cases of sleep apnea go undetected. So how do you know if you have sleep disorder? The most apparent and major symptoms of sleep apnea are chronic and loud snoring, gasping while asleep, frequent and long gaps in breathing and sleepiness in daytime despite enough sleep hours at night.
To determine if you have sleep apnea, answer the following questions, as formulated by American Sleep Apnea Association:
- Do you snore loudly and regularly?
- Did your partner or any of your family members observe that you regularly gasp for air when you’re asleep?
- Do you experience morning headaches?
- Are you feeling tired every time you wake up in the morning?
- Do you experience falling asleep even in the middle of your day activities like watching television or driving?
- Do you suffer from memory gap and become more unfocused than before your sleep?
If majority of your answers are yes, then you might have sleep apnea. It may be in your interest to see a doctor at this point, as this sleep disorder is usually diagnosed with a series of sleep studies. A sleep study is usually conducted in a sleep disorder center, and can be arranged by talking to your healthcare professional directly. You will have to stay overnight while doctor and nurses will document and record all your sleep movements and activities. You can also keep a diary of your own to monitor your sleeping habits. A good place to start your diary is with the help of your partner or one of your family members.
What are possible treatments for sleep apnea?
Males in their late 50s and beyond are more prone to sleep apnea. If you are overweight, smoke or related to someone with sleep apnea, you are also at greater risk of acquiring this sleep disorder. To minimize your chances of this, a healthier lifestyle could be all that you need to change about your life.
Quit smoking! Did you know that nicotine contributes to the inflammation of the air passage?
Lose weight but maintain a proportional weight for your age bracket.
Do away with heavy meals and food with too much caffeine at least two hours before going to bed.
Limit the alcohol intake, and, if possible, stop taking sleeping pills and other sedatives. The chemicals in sleeping pills and sedatives cause the throat’s muscle to relax and block the airway.
Stick to regular sleep time and duration as frequently as possible.
Your sleeping style can also help you prevent sleep apnea. Try to sleep sideways instead of sleeping on your back and use double pillows to elevate your head and upper back slightly from the bed. If you are suffering from severe sleep apnea, there are medical treatments that you can undergo. Some of these treatments include continuous positive airflow pressure, bi-level positive airway pressure and adaptive servo-ventilation. All of these treatments involve medical devices that will help you breathe regularly while you are asleep.