What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic sleep disorder that interrupts your breathing repeatedly while you sleep. There are many types of sleep apnea, but the one that is most commonly experienced is obstructive sleep apnea. This condition arises due to blockage of your airway due to intermittent relaxation of your throat muscles.
We often think we are suffering from obstructive sleep apnea when we snore loudly, gasp or choke during our sleep as these are the most noticeable signs. However, you would be surprised to know that there are a few less familiar signs that indicate that you have obstructive sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep condition that occurs when the muscles in your throat relax frequently while you are asleep. This tends to block your air passage and cause breathing interruptions.
If you do not treat obstructive sleep apnea, it will put you at a high risk of cardiovascular conditions leading to heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure. As discussed above, most people are aware of the common symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea such as loud snores, abnormal breathing, and getting jolted in your sleep due to choking or gasping. But these are the not-so-common symptoms that may take you by surprise.
The NOT-SO-COMMON Symptoms that could be Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Waking up with a headache in the mornings –
you may notice that even after a full night’s sleep you tend to wake up with a headache which lasts for a few hours after getting up. This pain tends to remain towards the centre and sides of the head. It feels like the head is being squeezed.
Lack of concentration during the day –
When you suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea you are unable to get enough restorative sleep and this leads to difficulty in concentrating. If you start keeping a track of how often you experience this symptom you will realize that you find yourself passing out while watching television, or sleeping off while driving or reading. It becomes very difficult to concentrate at your place of work or studies.
Frequent mood changes, depression and irritation –
Obstructive Sleep Apnea tends to make you feel low and cry frequently. You will find yourself getting irritated and annoyed at the slightest inconvenience. You may also feel like you going into depression and feel the need to cry very often. All this is indicative of Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Constant sweating during your sleep –
You may find yourself in sweaty night clothes more often than regular which is indicative of Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Waking up with a sore and dry throat –
Due to blocked airflow during your sleep, you may wake up feeling sore or dry in your throat. This becomes frequent due to the gasping and choking in your sleep.
Reduced Sexual Libido –
You will find your sex drive going down and notice that you are losing interest in sex or never in the mood for it. Obstructive Sleep Apnea tends to do this.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a medical condition that needs to be checked out by your doctor. But first let’s discuss the cause for this condition.
What causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
This condition occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat are very relaxed to enable normal breathing. The throat muscles are responsible for supporting your mouth structures such as the tonsils, the tongue, the back of the roof of your mouth (soft palate) and the triangular piece of tissue hanging from the soft palate (uvula).
What happens during Obstructive Sleep Apnea is that when the muscles relax, the airway becomes narrows and closes in when you breathe in leading to inadequate breathing spells. This lowers the level of oxygen in the body. The brain is made aware of this incorrect breathing pattern and sends a signal to wake you from your sleep to reopen the airway. This awakening may be so brief that one doesn’t tend remember it.
This incorrect breathing pattern corrects itself within a deep breath or two – and you will find yourself creating snorting or gasping sound. This pattern is repetitive and lasts all night long. Due to these interruptions, you are unable to rest properly even though you think you have slept all night.
Are you at a higher risk of OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA?
Anyone can suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, however, certain people with particular conditions can be at increased risk.
- Obesity or excessive weight: When you are overweight the fat may tend to deposit around the upper airway causing an obstruction in breathing. PCOS and hypothyroidism are certain medical conditions that are associated with being overweight and are a cause of obstructive sleep apnea. However, being obese is not a sure shot reason for getting Obstructive Sleep Apnea and vice versa.
- Narrow airways – You may be born with naturally narrow airways or your tonsils or adenoids may get enlarged leading to a blocked airway.
- High blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma – People with hypertension, diabetes, and asthma are more prone to suffering from Obstructive sleep apnea.
- Severe nasal congestion – Nasal congestion may lead to narrow airways. This condition occurs twice as often in people who have chronic nasal congestion at night
- Smoking – Obstructive sleep apnea is more likely to occur in smokers.
- Gender – Men are twice as likely to have obstructive sleep apnea as compared to premenopausal women. Women are more prone to obstructive sleep apnea post-menopause.
- Family history – You are at an increased risk of Obstructive sleep apnea if you have family members with the same conditions
What can you do yourself to reduce obstructive sleep apnea?
You may consider a few options to self-cure mild sleep apnea. For controlling obstructive sleep apnea, sleeping on side, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking etc may bring relief to some extent.
Weight loss – Doctors recommend that obese people lose weight to bring sleep apnea under control. Obesity tends to cause airway obstruction and narrowing of nasal passages. These blockages tend to hamper your breathing multiple times during your sleep. If you keep your weight in check – you can avoid upper airway surgery or CPAP therapy.
Temporary weight loss, may eliminate the condition completely, however, if you gain back the weight, the condition may return.
Yoga and Regular Exercise – if you exercise regularly and do yoga it can improve sleep apnea. Yoga strengthens the respiratory process enabling better oxygen flow. Exercise enhances your energy levels and strengthens the heart.
Since sleep apnea is related to reduced oxygen saturation in the blood, yoga can significantly increase the oxygen levels through the various breathing exercise; thus, reducing sleep interruptions.
Change in sleeping position – To reduce obstructive sleep apnea, sleeping on side can provide relief. Just altering the position, you sleep in can alleviate obstructive sleep apnea symptoms
PubMed Central has shown that sleeping on your back can increase sleep apnea symptoms. Thus, for obstructive sleep apnea, sleeping on side helps normalize breathing giving a good night’s rest. It is always recommended to discuss the Obstructive Sleep Apnea symptoms with your doctor and then evaluate options available.
Using a Humidifier – Dry air causes congestion and is irritable to the body and respiratory system. Using a humidifier will add moisture to the room you are in and enable clear breathing. When you use a humidifier, your airways open up, congestion decreases and breathing becomes better.
For additional relaxation and to reduce inflammation you can add essential oils to the humidifier. Peppermint, eucalyptus and other oils are known to be anti- inflammatory and have soothing benefits.
Ditch bad habits like smoking and drinking alcohol – Basic lifestyle changes like refraining from smoking and reducing your alcohol consumption can significantly reduce obstructive sleep apnea complication. These basic changes enhance your health and enable better sleeping.
The reason for this is the tobacco in smoking leads to swelling and inflammation and increases the chances of sleep apnea. Alcohol on the other hand, relaxes the throat muscles that control the breathing causing interruptions in your sleep and snoring.
A study by PubMed Central said smokers fall in the high-risk category for developing Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The study observed that people who suffered from obstructive sleep apnea may be predisposed to smoking so treating sleep apnea may help to quit smoking.
Using Oral Appliances – When you use Oral appliances you jaw and tongue gets repositioned keeping the airway open during your sleep.
Oral appliances are of two types – mandibular advancement devices (work on the jaw) and tongue stabilizing devices (work on the tongue). When you wear either of the types your lower jaw or tongue is moved forward, reducing the obstruction in the throat, enabling air to pass through freely.
The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine declares oral appliances to be an effective therapy for obstructive sleep apnea.
This is a low cost and OTC option that is also perfect for sleep apnea patients who can’t use a CPAP device. This is tailor made for your jaw positioning resulting in amazing sleep quality.
Should you see a doctor?
Should you see a doctor even if you think it is mild sleep apnea? It is recommended to consult a doctor or professional if you and your partner observe certain repetitive symptoms as discussed above.
- If your snoring is disturbing to others
- If you find yourself waking up gasping or choking
- If your breathing is accompanied by intermittent pauses during your sleep
- Symptoms like daytime lethargy, feeling sleepy while doing your daily, disinterest in sex and other such signs that you may not directly relate with Obstructive Sleep Apnea but are a result of that
Please know that just because you snore, need not necessarily mean you have sleep apnea. It is best to consult your doctor if you feel the snoring is loud and accompanied by periods of silence. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, sleeping on your side will provide relief and if you are on your back the snoring will be extremely loud. I recommend giving this device a go. It’s safe and it has helped so many people with severe OSA and if it persist then you can see a doctor post that.
If you do have any of the above symptoms and think that it may even be mild sleep apnea, it is best to consult a doctor.