A diagnosis of sleep apnea can be a scary and confusing thing. Snoring, which is simply an annoying habit to some and just a part of life to others, suddenly has an ominous ring to it. Thankfully, there are a few simple lifestyle changes that can help relieve some of the effects of sleep apnea and contribute to overall sleep health. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what can be done to help treat sleep apnea, let’s take a few minutes to review what sleep apnea is, how it’s diagnosed, and what sleep health is.
What is sleep apnea?
People living with sleep apnea often wake up after a full night's sleep feeling tired, find themselves dozing off mid-afternoon or behind the wheel, and find their heads feeling foggy. One of the most common causes of restless sleep is a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea.
In a nutshell, sleep apnea causes the body to stop breathing for a brief period of time during sleep. Sufferers can stop breathing anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, and these episodes can happen as often as 30 times an hour! Typically, the body is jolted out of sleep to take a breath which is indicated by the sound of snoring or choking. Think about it. With sleep apnea, daytime functioning can be extremely limited. It's difficult to imagine feeling great after experiencing such a major interruption of a night of sleep.
Essentially, people who suffer from sleep apnea also suffer from a form of sleep deprivation, and all the effects that go along with it. Long-term sleep deprivation can cause a number of issues such as heart problems, cognitive delays, and weight gain or loss.
How do I know that I have sleep apnea?
Unfortunately, sleep apnea is often not diagnosed at all. It’s not necessarily something you will notice in yourself. How many people know that they snore unless a family member or bed partner tells them, typically by a swift kick in the middle of the night? Oftentimes, someone will go years thinking that being perpetually tired is the norm. And that having a foggy brain is just a part and parcel of dealing with a heavy schedule and the business of daily life.
To get a proper diagnosis of sleep apnea, you must undergo a medically-supervised sleep test. This usually happens in a sleep clinic where you are attached to a bunch of wires, and are monitored while you sleep. While this doesn’t make for the most relaxed or restful of sleeps, a sleep test is vital to ensuring that you get the correct diagnosis.
Okay, so I have sleep apnea, now what?
After a diagnosis, those with sleep apnea will typically be prescribed use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP machine. A CPAP includes a small machine that you place next to your bed that supplies constant and steady air pressure through a hose that is connected to a mask or nose piece. It is recommended that sleep apnea sufferers use the CPAP every time they sleep - whether it be a short catnap on the couch or a full night’s sleep all cozied up in bed. In fact, many CPAP machines even come with a handy travel bag for easy transport while on holiday. However, while the CPAP is certainly a good way to treat sleep apnea and improve one’s quality of sleep, it does not address improving overall sleep health.
Does this mean I will be attached to a machine every night for the rest of my life?
Well, that’s a tough question to answer. It really depends on many factors including the severity of your sleep disorder. However, there are many simple changes one can do to reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea and other disorders, and sometimes, even get rid of them altogether. Making lifestyle changes towards improving sleep health is a key factor in treating sleep disorders and dealing with the effects of restless sleep. There have been lots of studies on what is considered proper sleep health and the simple steps one can take to achieve this.
What is sleep health?
Do you remember when you were a teenager and could fall asleep on the couch after hours of staring at a TV flashing bright images of your favorite Hollywood crushes? What about in college? When you could crash hard after pulling an all-nighter and consuming at least 25 cups of coffee? Are you connected 24/7? Do you sleep with your mobile device tucked under your pillow? Well, those would be a few examples of poor sleep health.
Proper sleep health is essentially what you can do to improve your sleep quality, which in turn improves your overall health and reduces the occurrence of sleep disorders. It could be as simple as room-darkening shades to create a sleep-inducing environment or adding a few more steps to your bedtime routine like a warm bath and a cup of herbal tea. But, by far, the best thing you can do is to start practicing mindful meditation.
What is mindful meditation and how the heck does it improve my sleep disorder?
It’s actually a pretty simple concept. Basically, it’s paying mindful attention to your everyday life. It’s a known fact that those who focus on their goals, purpose, and motivation not only sleep better but have an overall better outlook on life. It’s going to sleep with a clear mind that lets you shut down, be peaceful, rid yourself of distractions, and simply sleep.
How do I do it?
If you look up mindful meditation online, you will be bombarded with hundreds of methods, tools, exercises, and even audiobooks and YouTube videos on the best ways to meditate. The truth is, there is no best way. You have to find what works best for you when it comes to mindful meditation. So, whether you download a podcast to listen to, or read a how-to book, you design your preferred meditation practice. There are a few things that you should keep in mind when you begin to practice mindful meditation to improve your sleep health.
- Practice your meditation before bed to clear your mind. You could even do it while in bed, as sometimes meditating can lull you into a peaceful slumber, which is, after all, the whole point.
- Take a moment at the beginning of the your session to review your goals, purpose, and motivations. You can do this by memory or make yourself a few affirmation cards to read before starting your meditation.
- It’s okay for your mind to wander - meditation takes practice. Just remember to re-center yourself and move on.
Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders do not have to consume your life. You can find a simple and easy way to lower the risks associated with sleep disorders by being mindful of your life and your purpose. Meditation is one of the easiest and most effective tools that you can bring into your bedroom to improve your sleep and your quality of life.