If you’ve ever had the experience of sleeping (or trying to sleep) in the same room as someone who’s snoring, you know how difficult it can be to fall asleep and stay asleep when the person next to you is making a noise like a dying lawn mower. As a matter of fact, snoring has driven many couples to begin sleeping in separate rooms!
In many cases, if you’re the one snoring, you doze on, blissfully unaware of the disrupting effect you’re having. However, when snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea, it could be affecting the snorer’s sleep as well. Here’s what you need to know if your sleep, or that of a loved one, is being interrupted by this condition.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts again. There are three main kinds of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea is when muscles in the throat relax and fail to keep the airway open.
- Central sleep apnea is when the brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles that control breathing.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome occurs when someone has both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, over 18 million American adults have sleep apnea. However, some individuals are at a higher risk of developing this disorder. Risk factors for sleep apnea include:
- Being overweight.
- Having a large neck circumference (over 17 inches for men and 16 inches for women.)
- Having a narrow airway or large tongue and tonsils.
- Being male.
- Being over 40.
- Using alcohol.
- Having a family history of sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can interrupt sleep, leaving a person who suffers with this condition feeling tired and irritated. However, it can also lead to additional health issues that are much more serious than simple fatigue.
The combination of sleep disturbance and low blood oxygen can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, memory and concentration issues, and type 2 diabetes. It can also cause accidents due to driving or working while drowsy.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Loud, chronic snoring is the most common sign of sleep apnea. It’s also a common reason for anyone who sleeps within earshot to beg that you talk to a doctor.
However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, and not everyone with sleep apnea snores. Other symptoms may not be as obvious, and may only be noticeable to another person observing your sleep. These include:
- Episodes where you stop breathing during sleep.
- Gasping or choking during sleep.
- Waking up with a headache or dry mouth.
- Excessive sleepiness in the daytime.
- Attention and memory problems.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Sleep apnea is usually diagnosed through a sleep study. This could involve an overnight stay at a sleep center or sleep tests that you perform at home.
Treatment for sleep apnea will vary depending on what is causing it and also on how severe it is. For very mild cases, your doctor might recommend a few lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol for several hours before bed, and sleeping on your side rather than on your back.
For moderate to severe cases, or those that don’t improve after making lifestyle changes, other therapies are necessary. One common treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure device (or CPAP). The CPAP is a machine that delivers continuous light pressure through a mask. This pressure helps to keep airways open while you sleep.
Other treatment options include wearing an oral device designed to keep airways open by re-positioning the tongue and jaw. In severe cases of sleep apnea, surgery may be necessary. Surgery could involve shrinking or removing tissue around the airways, repositioning the jaw, or stimulating nerves to keep the tongue in a position that doesn’t block airways.
If you or someone you love has any sleep disorder that leaves you feeling fatigued or irritable, it’s important to address the problem. Talking with your doctor can help you determine if the problem is due to sleep apnea and can put you on the road to effective treatment and a better night’s sleep.
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