Everyone has snored at some time or another, and normally it isn’t that big of a deal. But when loud snoring is accompanied by fatigue during the day, that could be a sign of sleep apnea. So what is sleep apnea? Simply put, sleep apnea affects the way you breathe during sleep. If it goes untreated, breathing is usually briefly interrupted or becomes very shallow while you sleep. These pauses can last anywhere from 10-20 seconds and can happen hundreds of times per night, keeping you out of a natural sleep rhythm. Because of this, you sleep lighter and often have daytime fatigue, slowed reflexes, poor concentration and an increased risk of accidents as a result.
It may also lead to serious health issues as well, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and weight gain. But you can control symptoms with treatment, and get back to normal as soon as possible.
There are three types of sleep apnea, and we’ll at least give you a general overview of each so that you know what to look for.
Types of Sleep Apnea
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common type, and it happens when the soft tissue at the back of your throat relaxes during sleep, blocking your airway, and often causing you to snore loudly.
- Central Sleep Apnea is much less common and involves the central nervous system. It happens when the brain doesn’t signal the muscles that control breathing. People experiencing this type seldom snore.
- Complex Sleep Apnea is a combination of both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Now that we’ve seen some of the types of sleep apnea, let’s look at some major signs and symptoms to watch out for:
- Loud and chronic snoring nearly every night
- Choking, snorting, or gasping during sleep
- Pauses in breathing
- Waking up at night feeling short of breath
- Daytime sleepiness and fatigue no matter how long you were in bed
- Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Insomnia or waking up at nighttime
- Going to the bathroom frequently during the night
- Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
- Uncharacteristic moodiness, irritability, or depression
- Morning headaches
- Restless or fitful sleep
Finally, let’s see some tips on how to change your lifestyle and try to prevent sleep apnea:
- Lose weight: Those who are overweight have extra tissue at the back of their throat, that can fall down over the airway and block flow of air to the lungs while sleeping. Even losing a small amount of weight can help to open your throat and improve sleep apnea symptoms.
- Quit smoking: Smoking is thought to contribute to sleep apnea by increasing inflammation and fluid retention in your throat and upper airway.
- Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, and sedatives: especially before bedtime, as they relax muscles in the throat and interfere with breathing.
- Exercise regularly: Starting and keeping an exercise program, in addition to helping with weight loss, can greatly effect duration and quality of sleep. Aerobic and resistance training can reduce sleep apnea symptoms, and yoga is also good for strengthening muscles in airways and improving breathing.
- Avoid caffeine and heavy meals: two hours before bedtime.
- Maintain regular sleep hours: By keeping a steady schedule, it’ll help you relax and sleep better, plus apnea episodes will also lessen when you get good sleep.
There are many more signs, symptoms and treatments available for sleep apnea, and we’ll discuss CPAP and BiPAP machines in another article. It is important, however, for you to do your own research and talk to your doctor with any concerns or questions you might have.