Sleep apnea is a severe type of sleep disorder that disrupts your breathing while you are asleep. This tends to occur when the brain, as well as the rest of the body, does not get enough oxygen supply. Sleep apnea can affect any individual at any age and it is a potentially life-threatening condition.
In general, there are two different types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of the disorder and it occurs when the soft tissue of the mouth and throat suddenly collapses, causing the airway to become blocked. The most common cause of OSA is being overweight and left untreated, it can have a severe impact on your personal health. Central sleep apnea, on the other hand, occurs when the brain fails to trigger the muscles that control your breathing. In such instances, your breathing becomes unstable and continuously stops and then starts back up again while you are asleep. This condition is more common in individuals who are also suffering from medical conditions such as heart disease, or those who are taking certain medications, such as opioids.
The most common risk factors for sleep apnea include the following:
- Being overweight
- Being of the male gender
- Being over the age of 40
- Being affected by nasal obstruction (such as having allergies or sinus problems)
- Being a smoker
- Having a family history of sleep apnea
- Having a large tongue or enlarged tonsils
- Having a thicker neck
- Having gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
- Having a heart disorder
- Having suffered one or multiple strokes
- Using alcohol or sedatives excessively
- Using narcotic pain medications excessively
Sleep apnea can interfere with the ability to get a good night’s sleep, thus causing excessive fatigue during the daytime. If left untreated, sleep apnea can also cause an interruption in normal breathing patterns and additional complications to your well-being including:
- Heart disease / Stroke
- High blood pressure
- Acid reflux / GERD
- Excessive weight gain
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Mental health issues
Furthermore, not getting enough sleep and feeling tired raises your risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. In fact, if you suffer from sleep apnea, you are 5 times more likely to cause car accidents while on the road. Severe sleep apnea may also cause academic underachievement and failure to perform simple activities on a daily basis.
Sleep apnea becomes a severe issue when it is left untreated. If you are suffering from this sleep disorder, it is important to be aware of the following health dangers that you might face at some point:
Heart disease and stroke
If you have OSA, you are more likely to suffer from heart disease or even stroke. Sleep apnea interrupts your body’s normal oxygen intake, thus making it difficult for your brain to control blood flow through your arteries and into the brain itself. In turn, low oxygen levels are likely to cause stroke and even death during sleep. Conducted clinical research shows that by treating sleep apnea with CPAP – continuous positive airway pressure – you can actually decrease your risk of developing heart disease.
High blood pressure
If you are already suffering from high blood pressure, then having OSA can potentially worsen your condition. Upon waking up repeatedly during the night, your body becomes stressed. This stress causes your endocrine system to work harder and faster, in turn increasing your blood pressure level. What’s more, low levels of oxygen in your blood may even contribute to hypertension. The good news is that there are several medications that you can take to control your high blood pressure; however, you need to speak with your doctor regarding this matter beforehand.
Acid reflux / GERD
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, is often associated with sleep apnea. If you are suffering from sleep apnea, chances are that you may also have GERD. The fact of the matter is that while you sleep, your throat opens and closes. This movement can cause excessive changes in air pressure that, in turn, may shift contents from inside your stomach back up into the esophagus. Studies have shown that both sleep apnea and GERD are related to obesity, so returning to a normal weight may help to alleviate your symptoms.
Excessive weight gain
More than half of individuals suffering from obesity also suffer from sleep apnea. This is due to the fact that the extra weight tends to gather around the neck, making it more difficult to breathe properly during sleep. Moreover, sleep apnea tends to release additional doses of the hormone ghrelin, which is also known as the “hunger hormone”. It is responsible for food cravings and so when you are feeling exhausted, your body might not be able to turn the food you eat into energy. Instead, your body turns the food into fat. Fat can be much harder to burn off and contributes to excessive weight gain. On the positive side, losing weight can significantly ease symptoms related to sleep apnea.
Type 2 diabetes
Sleep apnea is extremely common in individuals with type 2 diabetes. In fact, 80% of diabetics have some type of sleep disorder. Studies have yet to determine the relationship between sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes; however, it is a known fact that sleep deprivation and fatigue can prevent your body from using insulin properly. In turn, misuse of insulin may lead to diabetes. Yet, receiving proper treatment of OSA can help you to feel more energized and lose weight, thus alleviating symptoms relating to sleep apnea.
Continuous research on sleep apnea has shown that frequent morning headaches are associated with sleep disorders and insomnia. These headaches occur when your airway becomes affected by various changes that occur within your blood stream. Speak with your doctor about receiving the right treatment for you and getting the rest you deserve.
Mental health issues
Sleep apnea may affect your physical, as well as, mental well-being. Difficulty falling asleep can lead to grogginess and even severe depression. In fact, sleep problems are quite common in individuals with bipolar disorder, mild depression or anxiety.
While all of these health-related issues can seem frightening, the good news is that sleep apnea can be diagnosed and treated. If you are suffering from common sleep apnea symptoms such as loud snoring, fatigue, lack of energy, restless sleep, and morning headaches, it is in your best interest to seek help from a sleep specialist so that he or she can conduct a compressive sleep study. They take into account your personal history and symptoms in order to avoid other health-related complications.
There are several treatment options available – one of the most common of which is CPAP. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) uses a machine, hooked up to a mask, to help you breath better while you sleep. It is true that it may take some time to get used to the machine; however, most individuals claim that they feel much better after some time. There are also other treatments available, including nerve stimulators, mouthpieces and other devices, as well as a few forms of surgery. Remember, sleep apnea is treatable so try out a few treatments that are available at your disposal and see which one works best for you.