Sound sleep is a necessity of every individual. When your sleep is disrupted by any factor, it is a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders are changes in the pattern of sleeping. Daytime sleepiness, irregular breathing, increased movement during sleep, difficulty to sleep and abnormal sleep behaviours are all signs of sleep disorders. Good sleep is important for our physical and mental health whereas any interruption affects our overall health, safety and quality of life. We tend to feel more tired, fatigued and irritated due to sleep disturbances. Any one from a young child to an adult can develop a sleep disorder, be it short term or long term. Insomnia, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, bed-wetting and sleep apnea are some common sleep disorders.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder in which causes irregular breathing. It results in breathing pauses that typically lasts for a few seonds. This disorder completely blocks the airflow. In sleep apnea, sleep is disrupted by inadequate breathing and poor level of oxygen in the blood. Snoring and a general feeling of tirednes after a full night’s sleep are signs of getting sleep apnea. Some risk factors for sleep apnea include:
- Males in the age group of 40 or above
- Being overweight can thicken the windpipe walls which becomes difficult to open.
- Having a large neck size
- Heredity problem
- Having large tonsils and tongue as compared to the opening in the windpipe
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- When throat muscles and tongue are more relaxed than normal
Decline in blood oxygen level and lack of quality sleep can activate the release of stress hormones. These hormones can lead to an increased risk of hypertension, heart attack, stroke and arrhythmias. If sleep apnea remains untreated, the person becomes obese and gets diabetes as well.
These are some risk factors that increase the chance of developing sleep apnea but one must know that this sleeping disorder can affect children as well. Sleep apnea is categorised into two main types, obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
- Obstructive sleep apnea – In an obstructive sleep apnea, breathing pauses while sleeping because the airways get partly blocked. During sleep, the body muscles become much more relaxed and it includes the muscles which help in keeping the throat open so that air flow easily into the lungs. Generally, the throat remains open while we are asleep to let the air pass through.
- Central sleep apnea – When the brain stops sending signals to the muscles that controls breathing, the condition is termed as central sleep apnea. It usually occurs in those who have other medical problems. People already having a problem with a brainstem which controls breathing are most likely to develop central sleep apnea.
In case, you find that you have sleep apnea, try to see a doctor immediately because treatment is of utmost important to avoid any heart problem or other complications. Symptoms of sleep apnea must be reduced to live a better life in future.
Sleep apnea symptoms
Sometimes the symptoms of both obstructive and central sleep apnea overlap. So, the common signs of both the types include:
- Excessive sleep during daytime which is called hypersomnia
- Morning headache
- Dry mouth or sore throat after waking up
- Loud snoring often found in obstructive sleep apnea
- Attention problems
- Difficulty in sleeping known as insomnia
- Shortness of breath most likely to occur in central sleep apnea
The patient can also suffer from poor concentration, anxiety, mood swings, irritation and depression. Adult male can suffer from erectile dysfunction and his sex drive may also decrease. Hypertension, weight gain and increased urination are some other symptoms of sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea test
The specialist will make an evaluation based on the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea. The tests involved to detect sleep apnea are:
- Nocturnal polysomnography – In this test, an equipment is used which is used to monitor heart, lungs, brain activities, arms and leg movements and blood oxygen level while sleeping.
- Home sleep tests – In some cases, doctors recommend some easy tests to be used at home for detecting sleep apnea. The test is done to measure heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow and breathing patterns. In case you got sleep apnea, the result will show decline in oxygen level and subsequent rise after waking up. If the result comes abnormal, the doctor will recommend therapy. Polysomnography would still be recommended if initial results are positive.
In case of obstructive sleep apnea, the doctor would advise you to visit a ear, nose and throat doctor to correct any blockage in the throat or nose. A cardiologist or the doctor specialising in the nervous system (neurologist) would be needed to look for the causes of central sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea treatment
Sleep apnea can be treated well by changing lifestyle, mouth pieces, breathing devices and surgery.
- Lifestyle changes – One must avoid alcohol and medicines that makes you sleepy. Do not eat foods containing calories and fat because it will lead to obesity. Avoid sleeping on the back. Do not smoke and always ask your doctor to suggest several programs for quitting smoking.
- Mouthpieces – A mouth piece is also called oral appliance which is recommended to stop snoring problems. Dentists on special orders makes custom fit plastic mouthpiece for treating sleep apnea.
- Breathing devices – Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the best treatment to cure moderate or severe sleep apnea in adults. The CPAP machine makes a mask that fits on the mouth and nose. The machine helps to blow air into the throat. The air pressure keeps airway open while sleeping. When sleep apnea gets treated, your snoring problem is also tackled. Sleep apnea may return if one stops using CPAP machine. In case you get CPAP side effects, immediately consult your sleep specialist.
- Surgery – For people who do not get any benefit/relief from any method, surgery is usually recommended for them. Surgery widens breathing passages. It aims to shrink, stiff or remove excess tissues in the mouth and throat. Even for children, surgery is done to remove their tonsils blocking airways.
Sleep deprivation is a condition in which a man is unable to sleep. Lack of sleep affects our normal day to day working. A sleep deprived person always struggles during office hours. Sleep deprivation can also affect sex life. Insomnia, sleep apnea, bedwetting, snoring and teeth grinding are some sleep disorders common among children and adults. Having dry mouth and morning headache are symptoms of sleep apnea. One must consult a doctor and get sleep apnea diagnosed to avoid sleepless nights in the future.
Know anyone who’s experiencing sleepless nights? Do share this blog with them. Also, post comments to clear any health-related doubts you may have.
Also Read: Cataract: Shocking Myths V Facts
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