One of the most common Zzz-oriented health conditions around, sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. Read on to find out more.
With an estimated 22 million Americans suffering from sleep apnea, you’re certainly not alone if you suffer from the condition. And the effects can be substantial, placing you at greater risk of certain health problems and having a big impact on your quality of life. Get the lowdown on sleep apnea symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that makes your breathing shallow, or even stops you from breathing completely. The pauses in your breathing (apnea) can occur 30 times or more over the course of an hour, lasting for 10 seconds or more. While breathing disturbances during sleep are relatively common, there is a chance that they could be linked to chronic diseases like sleep apnea. There are two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA). OSA is a much more common form of sleep apnea and is caused by airway blockages, while CSA refers to cases where you can’t breathe because of incorrect signals from your brain.
The consequences of sleep apnea could be severe. You’re not just going to feel a little more sleepy than usual. Sleep apnea increases your risk of high blood pressure and heart problems, weakens your immune system, lowers your blood oxygen levels, and may increase your likelihood of depression, among other physical effects. In addition, recent research has indicated that people who suffer from OSA may find it more difficult to form meaningful memories, otherwise known as autobiographical memories, about their lives.
What causes sleep apnea?
Different factors can cause sleep apnea, including physical obstructions to your airway, such as thickened tissue or excessive fat stores that restrict airflow. Obesity, weight gain, chronic sinusitis, large neck circumferences, a family history of the condition, smoking, Down syndrome, and supine sleeping are risk factors for OSA. Plus, a recent study has indicated that there may be a link between air pollution and sleep apnea.
Then there’s brain function. As we mentioned before, CSA is caused by faulty neurological controls for breathing, which messes up the rhythm of your breathing during sleep. In most cases, CSA is caused by underlying conditions such as heart failure or stroke, as well as the recent use of pain medications.
What are the most common sleep apnea symptoms?
Want to know something scary? A recent study has found that up to 15% of children may have sleep apnea, but 90% of cases may go undiagnosed. If you’ve got kids, that’s going to keep you up at night. And undiagnosed sleep apnea isn’t just a problem for young people. Studies indicate that 80% of moderate to severe sleep apnea conditions go undiagnosed. Here are some of the most common sleep apnea symptoms to watch out for—although, because some of them take place while you sleep, you may need to ask a partner to stay on the lookout for you or get a device, like Withings Sleep, that can tell you about breathing disturbances and the probability that you might have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea symptoms include:
- Loud snoring
- Choking or gasping sounds (listen to this recording from SleepApnea.org for a clearer picture)
- Pauses in breathing
- Daytime sleepiness
- Insomnia or unrefreshing sleep
- Headaches in the morning
- Memory loss and difficulty concentrating
- Decreased sex drive and irritability
What is the best sleep apnea treatment?
There are a couple of different sleep apnea treatments, but it’s not always a straightforward process. First off, you need to receive a sleep apnea diagnosis. Home sleep testing to measure your blood oxygen levels, breathing patterns, and heart rate may be an option. Alternatively, you may need to receive overnight monitoring at a sleep center.
After you get a diagnosis, it’s time for sleep apnea treatment. You may have a few different options to consider:
- Continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP): A machine—including a fitted mask—that provides a constant flow of air to make sure your airways stay open while you sleep.
- Chinstrap: Sometimes used in conjunction with CPAP, chinstraps are intended to help prevent mouth breathing, mouth leak, and dry mouth, all of which can make CPAP less effective.
- Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP): A treatment that is relatively similar to CPAP, BiPAP provides two types of pressurized air, one as you breathe in and one as you breathe out.
There you have it—our quick guide to sleep apnea. If you are worried that you’re suffering from the condition, be sure to check in with a doctor for an expert opinion.