One of the most irritating things about trying to get some sleep is being disturbed by your bedmate’s loud snoring. Sometimes, a person’s snoring can be so loud, it keeps you awake for most of the night. But did you know that snoring is more than just a sound a sleeping person produces? Many people assume that when a person snores during their sleep, it’s a sign that they’re in a deep slumber. But the truth is, constant loud snoring is a huge sign of a severe health problem called sleep apnea.
Defining Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a sleep condition that happens when a person’s breathing suddenly pauses or stops unconsciously during sleep. Each time this happens, the person would wake up gasping for breath in the middle of the night. However, they wouldn’t remember waking up unless a bedmate tells them about it. When sleep apnea is left untreated, it could cause numerous health risks, which this article will discuss below.
Types Of Sleep Apnea
To further understand the severity of this sleep disorder, you need to know its types. The two types of sleep apnea are obstructive and central, but the most common among both conditions is obstructive sleep apnea.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea
This is when a person experiences repetitive episodes of partial or complete blockage in their upper airway during sleep. When this happens, their chest muscles and diaphragm have to pump air harder due to the pressure of trying to open the airway. As a result, the person would often let out a loud gasp or jerk their body as a reaction once their breathing resumes.
This type of sleep apnea could reduce the oxygen flow into your body organs and cause irregular heartbeats. If you or your bedmate often experience episodes of OSA every night, you need to take them to a sleep apnea clinic and have them properly treated.
- Central Sleep Apnea
For this type of sleep apnea, the person’s airway is not blocked. However, it’s their brain that fails to signal the muscles to breathe during sleep. As its name implies, this problem has to do with the malfunctioning of the central nervous system.
Who Is Prone To Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea can occur to anyone at any age, including babies, children, and especially people who are 50+ years old and are overweight. Obstructive sleep apnea can also happen to people with certain physical traits such as having a large neck, excessive weight, enlarged tonsils, a low-hanging soft palate, and a small jaw.
Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea
Besides loud snoring, there are still other symptoms you need to watch out for if you suspect someone has sleep apnea. For Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the symptoms may include:
- Loud snoring
- Restlessness during sleep
- Daytime sleepiness
- Frequent nighttime awakenings
- Sore throat or dry mouth upon awakening
- Sudden awakenings with loud gasp or choke
- Night sweats
- Mood disturbances
- Frequent urination at night
- Sexual dysfunction
Remember that these symptoms are first recognized by the bedmate and not the patient himself. The patient will often not feel or even remember these symptoms, as most of them happen during sleep.
For people with central sleep apnea, here are some symptoms you need to look out for:
- Daytime mouth breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Unusual sleeping positions
- Excessive sweating during sleep
If you notice one or more of the symptoms mentioned above, tell the patient about your observations right away and encourage them to consult a doctor.
Seven Health Risks Associated With Sleep Apnea
Some people won’t believe the severity of this sleep condition until they know how harmful it is for their health. For your guide, here are seven health risks associated with untreated sleep apnea:
- Heart Disease
Perhaps the most dangerous health risk associated with sleep apnea is heart disease. As mentioned, people with sleep apnea have a lower oxygen flow on their entire body due to their abnormal breathing patterns during their sleep. Your breathing often stops or pauses during your sleep, which disrupts your body’s oxygen flow. And with a lower oxygen supply, it is harder for your brain to control the blood flow in your heart and arteries, which eventually leads to heart attacks.
Besides heart attacks, a person with sleep apnea could also be at risk of stroke and atrial fibrillation. So, if you suspect your bedmate to be suffering from sleep apnea, encourage them to seek treatment right away before it’s too late.
- High Blood Pressure
For people with high blood pressure, your current condition could worsen due to sleep apnea. You see, each time you suddenly wake up at night and gasp for air, these repeated episodes will stress out your body, causing an overdrive and further elevating your already high blood pressure levels. Furthermore, high blood pressure can also happen to children with untreated sleep apnea.
There are plenty of reasons why sleep is vital for promoting your overall health, and one of these is to regulate your body’s insulin properly. However, with sleep apnea, there’s little chance that you’ll be getting good quality sleep every night. Due to poor sleep, your body won’t be able to use insulin effectively, leading to diabetes. Moreover, your abnormal breathing pattern during your sleep can negatively affect your body’s glucose metabolism, making you resistant to insulin and ultimately boosting your risk of having Type 2 diabetes in the near future.
- Obesity Or Weight Gain
The reason why obese people are more susceptible to sleep apnea is because their bodies deposit more fats around their necks, which blocks their breathing at night, causing sleep apnea. Unfortunately, you tend to have a poor sleep every night because of your existing sleep apnea, making it even harder to trim down your weight.
Furthermore, the lack of sleep caused by sleep apnea could also increase your body’s ghrelin hormone production, making you crave for more carbs and sweets. That is why healthcare professionals have always emphasized the importance of exercise to help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk for health problems, including sleep apnea.
- Daytime Sleepiness
Since you’re not getting enough sleep every night due to sleep apnea, you’re more likely to wake up feeling irritable, tired, and fatigued every morning. These physical symptoms of lack of sleep will eventually result in daytime sleepiness. When you have daytime sleepiness, it’ll be harder for you to focus on tasks, think clearly when making decisions, and exert energy with your responsibilities, thus affecting your performance at home, school, or work.
- Car Accidents
Aside from daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea could also lead you to feel groggy and sleepy during the day. Thus, you’re simply putting your health and your life at risk due to road accidents that might happen if you opt to drive your vehicle despite feeling dizzy and groggy. It would also be harder for you to read, let alone notice road signs or hear traffic noises.
So, if you suspect someone has sleep apnea and is experiencing daytime sleepiness and grogginess at work, discourage them from driving a vehicle on their own and accompany them to seek professional treatment. The earlier they have their sleep apnea treated, the lesser their chances of getting into road accidents will be.
People with sleep apnea have a more heightened risk of having depression due to their frequent lack of sleep. What’s worse, once you have depression, it’ll even be harder for you to get sleep, which can only worsen your existing sleep apnea. Thus, if you or someone you know have noticed the early symptoms of sleep apnea, it’s recommended to seek a doctor’s diagnosis right away.
Treatment Options For Sleep Apnea
To finally give you the good news, sleep apnea is treatable as long as you or someone you know seeks professional help during the first manifestation of symptoms. Don’t worry, as diagnosing your sleep apnea isn’t about being hooked up to machines and monitors while you’re asleep. Once you see a doctor and open up about this sleep disorder, their first suggestion would be to let you undergo sleep evaluation which will be conducted by a sleep specialist.
Once they find out the severity of your sleep apnea, they’ll introduce you to several treatment options appropriate to your situation.
- Conservative Therapy: If you only have a mild case of sleep apnea, attending conservative therapy may be the best treatment for you.
- Exercise programs: This treatment is for obese people who experience sleep apnea due to excess weight. Losing at least 10-15% off of their current weight can significantly improve and reduce their episodes of sleep apnea.
- Wedge Pillow or Positional Therapy: For people who experience sleep apnea only when they lie on their backs, a wedge pillow or Positional Therapy may be the treatment they need to help them sleep on one side more often.
- Positive Airway Pressure Therapy (PAP): This mechanical treatment is for people with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. This machine will require the patient to wear a mask over their mouth or nose as it provides enough air for their body during their sleep. There are several types of PAP devices, and the most widely used is the CPAP or the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine.
The Bottom Line
Overall, sleep apnea is not something you should take lightly, despite being in its early stages. So, if you suspect one of your loved ones has sleep apnea, encourage them to seek a proper diagnosis from a doctor or sleep specialist. The earlier they seek help, the less likely they’ll be in danger of the mentioned health risks above.