Sleep Apnea – Do you stop breathing in your sleep?

Sleep apnea is a medical condition that is becoming much more prevalent in the American society. This condition affects your breathing at night and interrupts your good nights sleep. Because you are not able to sleep well you will wake drowsy and be unable to concentrate on important daily tasks. Fortunately there is treatment that can relieve the symptoms and this works in most people. This article combines the latest research in order to weigh up what the most effective treatment methods are for sleep apnea. Armed with this information you will be able to go and confidently discuss sleep apnea with your doctor.

What is sleep apnea?

People with sleep apnea will experience times throughout the night where they will stop breathing for a few seconds at a time. This is a very scary thought for many people and can in fact be quite dangerous if left untreated. Breathing stops because the muscles in your neck relax and cause the contents of your throat to fall over the airway and block it. The airway only stays blocked for a few seconds because your clever brain recognizes that something is going wrong and forces the body to start breathing again. This process may even cause you to wake up and when you do so you may notice that you are making a gasping or choking sound. Your breathing may stop like this several times an hour for as long as you are asleep. This means that it is very hard to stay in the deep sleep that is necessary to feel fully refreshed in the morning.

What are the symptoms?

Now the periods of waking with associated gasping and choking may or may not be noticed by yourself or your partner. In fact it is most common for another family member such as the partner to notice periods of absent breathing, also you may hear complaints that you snore. Things that you will most likely notice are feeling drowsy during the day, feeling tired when you wake up, or finding it hard to concentrate on your normal daily activities. If you do experience a very bad degree of sleep apnea then you may notice that you fall asleep, or at least want to fall asleep in situations that you must be awake. These symptoms are quite non-specific and so it is important to see your doctor as many other things can cause disruption to a good sleep.

What treatments work?

Sleep apnea is not something that goes away on its own. This is an unfortunate fact but on the bright side there are a number of things that can be done to help. The number one thing that is recommended is avoidance of alcohol and cigarettes. Some people also find that sleeping on their side will help a lot. But the treatment method that most people are familiar with is a machine with a mask that attaches to your face and that blows air in through your nose and/or mouth. This form of treatment is known as continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP and the theory is that by forcing air into your windpipe the muscles wont have a chance to collapse. There are lots of studies that support the use of the CPAP machine. These studies claim that CPAP can improve your sleep and make you feel more awake in the daytime. Unfortunately CPAP is not without its disadvantages in the sense that the mask can cause dry mouth, sneezing and a runny nose. Also the wearing of the mask is said by many to be uncomfortable and makes some patients feel claustrophobic. Some people like to use a mouthpiece that looks a little like a gum shield that is used in contact sports such as football or hockey. These mouthpieces can be used to stop people from snoring and work by pushing the lower jaw forwards to keep the airway open. These have also been shown to make people less sleepy during the day. They are also said to improve the quality of these patients’ lives but the research on mouthpieces is limited.

Patients with sleep apnea who are overweight will more than likely be told to lose weight by their doctor. Interestingly although this has major health benefit, in the realm of sleep apnea there is not much evidence to suggest that it helps. If however you are very obese and are able to lose a large amount of weight in the region of 30-70% then this may lead to big improvements in the number of times they wake at night.

Surgery is another option for those suffering from sleep apnea. This is good for people who have large tonsils or adenoids that are causing their sleep apnea. There is also another operation that aims to remove some tissue from the top of your throat. Surgery is not the most widely accepted option of treatment here and many believe that there is no quick fix when it comes to sleep apnea. In fact in many people who undergo surgery for sleep apnea, their sleep apnea returns not longer after.

Some people are tried on medications to reduce their sleep apnea. This occurs most commonly in those who cannot tolerate a mask and they are tried on medicines used for other breathing problems, sedatives, antidepressants, or sleep pattern altering medications. The research on medication based treatment is not good and says that for the most part ‘the drugs don’t work.’

What will happen to me?

Untreated sleep apnea will adversely affect the quality of life that one lives. They will feel tired and run down and be unable to concentrate or even stay awake during the day. One of the most important things to remember if you think you may have sleep apnea is driving. Because you are at risk of falling asleep at the wheel a person with sleep apnea must notify the appropriate vehicle-licensing agency to discuss the matter with them. Those with sleep apnea are at increased risk of having other health problems and thus regular visits to your family doctor are advised.