Sleep is an essential part of everyday life. Everyone does it, and there are only so many hours one can manage without it. Some go by a strictly regulated schedule, while others stay up late in the night just to sleep the day away. Midday naps are also a common habit, whether for a much-needed energy boost or simply out of boredom. Either way, sleeping is more than just a comfort to look forward to at the end of the day—it’s a crucial activity needed the body to function.
Enough sleep is important
Because it’s such a large part of our routine, it’s no surprise that sleep also affects our day-to-day lives. If you’re not getting proper rest every night, it’s likely you find your waking hours much less enjoyable and productive. This is because sleep is the body’s natural process to recharge. After exerting both physical and mental energy throughout the day, it needs some time to recover so that it can bounce back again the following morning. Besides, our bodies tend to follow an ‘internal clock,’ or a natural circadian timeline that reminds us when we start to get sleepy.
Allowing time for a sufficient amount of rest also ensures that we’re strong and healthy, as a lack of sleep can negatively impact our immune system, mood, and mental well-being. If you’ve been pushing back your bedtime or skipping out on regular shut-eye, chances are you’ll be feeling the consequences the next day. But what if you can’t seem to get a night of proper sleep?
What are the warning signs of sleep apnea?
You might be one of many individuals who suffer from sleep apnea: a sleep disorder in which the breathing cycle is disrupted. There are multiple types of this condition, but they all cause the breathing to repeatedly stop and start, which means that your supposed time of rest is actually not much of a rest at all. This type of disturbed breathing also causes your oxygen levels to decrease.
So what do these issues mean? If sleep apnea is interrupting your sleeping process, your body isn’t getting the recovery it needs. In turn, you’re bound to be left feeling drained and tired and might have difficulty staying awake the next day. However, there are more symptoms than just exhaustion—sleep apnea can also lead to morning headaches, increased irritability, and difficulty staying focused. In more serious cases, sleep apnea can later contribute to severe health issues like heart problems, high blood pressure, or even diabetes. If you’re looking to read more about the consequences of sleep apnea, the sleep apnea guide by Sleep Academy goes well in-depth about the various side-effects.
Types of sleep apnea
To determine if you suffer from this disorder, you should be aware of the different types of sleep apnea. The first type is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). This form occurs when a relaxation of the throat muscles causes a block in the airway passage, preventing air from successfully traveling to the lungs. As a result, snoring can ensue, as well as abrupt choking or snorting. Because its oxygen levels are lowered, your body might wake you briefly and repeatedly. However, some of these awakenings can be so quick and insignificant that those who experience OSA don’t even remember them the next morning.
The second form of sleep apnea is called Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). This occurs when the brain is unable to send signals to the respiratory muscles, meaning the body ultimately fails to breathe. Individuals with CSA can also experience snoring and sudden awakenings, along with feeling restless or short of breath. CSA is less common than OSA but is often associated with people who already have certain medical problems, like brain complications or strokes.
What causes sleep apnea?
Whether you suffer from OSA or CSA, it’s important to remember that the possibility of developing sleep apnea can be due to more than just chance. Sleep apnea affects people of all ages, but older individuals are generally at greater risk. Other factors might involve lifestyle habits like smoking, which already poses a threat to the lungs in itself. According to an overview by the Mayo Clinic, obesity and excess weight is another significant cause.
Additional risk factors include family history, alcohol and substance use, medical conditions, and even simply being male.
How do doctors diagnose sleep apnea?
While this information might sound alarming, sleep apnea is actually quite a common diagnosis. In a 2007 publication studying the prevention and control of chronic respiratory diseases, the World Health Organization estimated that over 100 million individuals worldwide suffered from sleep apnea alone. Fortunately, this means that information about the condition is easily accessible, as the symptoms and risks are well recognized.
To diagnose an apnea you should visit a sleep disorder center. You most commonly would have 2 options:
- Nocturnal polysomnography. It is usually done in the hospital, it records your brain waves, the oxygen level in your blood, heart rate and breathing, as well as eye and leg movements during the sleep.
- Home sleep tests. A simpler option, usually doctors will start with it. These tests measure your heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow and breathing patterns.
Unfortunately, you can’t test yourself for sleep apnea because you would need equipment to measure heart rate, oxygen level, and other things.
What is the newest treatment for sleep apnea?
For those who have been diagnosed, there are a variety of suggested ways to help treat or prevent it. Because many risk factors involve common lifestyle habits, it’s probable that a few adjustments to your routine could actually make a big difference. Reducing alcohol consumption, limiting or quitting smoking, and maintaining healthy levels of weight are all modifications that could potentially lower your chances. Otherwise, a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device, or CPAP machine, is an apparatus that can be worn during sleep to assist with airflow and facilitate successful breathing, allowing your body to achieve a proper slumber.
CPAP therapy is first administered by a sleep technologist, so the machine is specifically set to accommodate your body’s unique needs. Additionally, CPAP machines can also help to reduce or eliminate snoring, decrease next-day tiredness, and lower high blood pressure. If none of these options is a possibility, surgery can be performed to remove tissue and open the airway passage. However, this is usually reserved for severe cases.
Sleep Apnea – Symptoms and Causes: Final words
Seeking treatment for sleep apnea will not only benefit you, but it can also be helpful to others with whom you might share a living or sleeping space. Although this disorder is fairly common, it can lead to serious health problems if left untreated, so it’s best to be aware of the signs and risks. If you’re interested to learn more about sleep apnea, visit sleepacademy.org to read The Sleep Apnea Guide, where you can find more detailed information on symptoms, complications, treatment, and more.
Bousquet, J., & Khaltaev, N. (2007). Global surveillance, prevention, and control of Chronic Respiratory Diseases: A comprehensive approach. World Health Organization.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Sleep Apnea. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/symptoms-causes/syc-20377631
Suni, E. (2020, August 21). Sleep Apnea. Retrieved from SleepFoundation.org: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-apnea
The Sleep Apnea Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved from Sleep Acadey: https://sleepacademy.org/2020/09/22/the-complete-sleep-apnea-guide/
Watson, S., & Cherney, K. (2020, May 15). The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Body. Retrieved from Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body