Are you suffering from an inability to find adequate sleep? Does your breathing periodically stop and start while you are sleeping? And could this mean that you have sleep Apnea?
These and many more questions will be answered within this post. At the end, you will know exactly what sleep apnea is, the causes of this sleeping disorder, and the warning signs which you should be keen to take note of.
You will also learn how risky Sleep Apnea is and whether it can kill. Towards the end, you will get a comprehensive guide on how to cure sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea: What is It?
Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that occurs while you are sleeping. It is characterized by repeated breathing interruptions. It is also closely associated with snoring at night. Due to lack of enough oxygen getting to the brain and the rest of the body, you may find yourself feeling tired the rest of the day even if you had adequate sleep.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three main types of sleep apnea. The first one is Obstructive Sleep Apnea. It’s the most common. As the name implies, this type of Apnea occurs when the breathing channel is blocked. This could be due to collapsing of the throat muscles while you sleep or even due to excessive mucus forming within the throat’s inner lining.
The second type of sleep apnea is Central Sleep Apnea. This occurs when the brain fails to send proper coordination signals to the muscles controlling breathing. As a result, your breathing pattern is interrupted until the brain re-sends the needed neural signals to your lung muscles.
The third type is Complex Sleep Apnea. This is a combination of Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea. As you may guess, this type of Apnea is most severe and risky.
What Are the Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea?
The signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are not distinctive. They overlap with symptoms of other diseases associated with the respiratory system. Many people snore loudly at night. This alone cannot be conclusive evidence that you have Sleep Apnea. You will need also to check for extra symptoms.
Here are the most common symptoms which should act as a warning sign:
- Snoring loudly at night
- Instances during sleep when you completely stop breathing
- Problems falling deeply asleep
- Frequent gasping of air during sleep
- Excessive tiredness during the day even when you had long hours of sleep
- Having a headache after waking up
- Dry and rusty mouth in the morning
- General irritability
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
So what causes this intermitted breathing while you are asleep? What could cause the throat muscles to collapse and thus obstruct breathing? Or make the brain not to send the proper signals to the lung muscles? For you to better understand this, we will focus on the two distinct types of sleep apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Causes
The respiratory system (breathing system) at the very top consists of the nose, the nasal cavity, and the pharynx. It is at the pharynx where the lower end of the mouth meets the nasal cavity to form the throat.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea occurs when the muscles on the upper side of the throat relax and thus close or narrow the airway. The result of this is a momentary interruption of breathing. After the short interruption of breathing, your brain, which is wired to ensure continuous breathing, wakes you up. It is at this point that you feel that you need a gasp of air. You may wake up with a snort or a choke.
Due to this repeated waking up to have a gasp of air, you end up not having adequate sleep. You thus suffer insomnia, tiredness during the day, and headache due to inadequate oxygen in your blood system.
Central Sleep Apnea: Causes
As it has been earlier stated, this form of Sleep Apnea is less common. The breathing rhythm is controlled by the brain stem. This part of the brain is located at the bottom of the brain and connects the upper brain (Cerebrum) with the spinal cord. The brain stem is responsible for basic body functions such as heartbeat, breathing, and swallowing. Any malfunction of this part of the brain will thus affect the breathing rhythm.
Breathing is controlled by reflex and voluntary breathing muscles. The reflex breathing pattern kicks in when you are asleep. In other words, when you are asleep, you don’t control your breathing pattern. The brain controls it.
The voluntary muscles can be activated when you are awake and willfully control your breathing rate and depth of breath.
Central Sleep Apnea occurs when you are asleep. The brain stem fails to send the right signals to the breathing muscles and thus there is no effort by your body to breathe. Your brain will then detect the shortness of breath and wake you up. Immediately you are awake, your voluntary breathing muscles will kick in and you start breathing. Usually, you will wake with a quick snort, a gasp, or a choking sound.
What are the Risk Factors Which You Need to Take Note Of?
Sleep apnea cuts across all ages. It affects children and adults alike. Here the factors which can predispose you to this sleeping disorder:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Risk Factors
1. Excess weight– Being overweight can narrow your airway. The fat deposits around the upper side of the throat may make it easier for the soft palate to collapse during sleep and thus block your airway.
2. Use of Sedatives, Alcohol, and Tranquilizers – These drugs relax your muscles including the throat muscles. Excessive relaxation of the throat muscles can lead to obstruction of the airway.
3. Huge Neck Circumference– Biologically, thicker necks are associated with narrower airways. Thus the risk for throat obstruction during sleep increases.
4. Gender – Clinical research shows that men are 3 times more predisposed to Sleep Apnea than their female counterparts.
5. Age – While it is true that this disorder can affect a person of any age, older people are more likely to get Sleep Apnea than younger people.
6. Frequent Nasal Congestion – If you frequently experience nasal congestion, your likelihood of getting this disorder is increased.
7. Prior medical conditions – Heart failure, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure can increase your risk of getting this sleeping disorder.
Central Sleep Apnea: Risk Factors
1. Narcotic Medications/Drugs – Once taken, nicotine affects the central nervous system and also the endocrinal system. These medications can thus interfere with the brain stem and affect its ability to transmit proper signals to the breathing muscles.
2. Stroke – Stroke paralyzes some parts of the body. When the stroke is widespread, it can affect the ability of the breathing muscles to respond to breathing triggers.
3. Age – As the body ages, the brain and the receptor cells replicate less often. Thus, the vitality and the health of the brain stem can be affected leading to breathing disorders.
Can Sleep Apnea Kill?
What happens when you suddenly stop breathing during sleep? It’s scary to watch your friend stop breathing while they are asleep. But is it by itself fatal? Can it cause death?
When you stop breathing due to sleep apnea, the air flowing into your lungs is reduced. The oxygen level in the blood reduces. The brain quickly senses this and stimulates you to wake up. Usually, you wake up with a jack. Your breathing then resumes to normal patterns and you fall back to sleep. This cycle may repeat itself throughout the night.
It is extremely unlikely that you will die directly from sleep apnea. However, complications resulting from long-term sleep apnea can eventually kill you.
When the brain awakens you after a period of interrupted breathing, the stress hormone, cortisol, is released. This hormone is released by the brain to help you quickly recover the oxygen levels needed for the normal functioning of the body. It increases the heart rate, breathing rate, and the level of alertness. In the short-term, it is beneficial.
However, a long-term presence of cortisol will cause other complications such as high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, and heart complications. These may eventually kill you.
How to Cure Sleep Apnea
1. Weight Loss
One of the risk factors which can predispose you to Sleep Apnea is excess weight. Keeping your weight under manageable levels can help you get rid of Sleep Apnea.
Physical exercise conditions the body muscles to work more efficiently. Physical exercises will strengthen your breathing muscles, open the airways better, and give you general body vitality. This could be the ultimate cure for your sleeping disorder.
Yoga comes with a set of specific poses and combines breathing exercises that can help condition your respiratory muscles to work better. The breathing exercises help you to increase the level of oxygen in the blood, condition the lungs to dilate more, and open the airways for effortless breathing. When done frequently, the brain and the muscles can be programmed to eliminate any obstruction. This could eventually cure or reduce the intensity of Sleep Apnea.
4. Avoid Sleeping on Your Back
If you are suffering from this disorder, it is advisable that you avoid sleeping on your back. The throat is more constrained in this position and thus you are likely to block the airway while you are asleep.
5. Avoid Alcohol and Smoking
Alcohol and other laxative drugs make the throat muscles which hold the soft palate tissue to relax. This could narrow or even entirely block your throat during sleep causing sleep apnea. Smoking introduces narcotic substances into the body. Nicotine affects the normal functioning of the nervous system and may gradually paralyze the brain stem which controls the breathing muscles.
6. CPAP-friendly Pillow
CPAP pillows help you to breathe better. They are designed to comfortably support your upper body and increase breathing effectiveness. Apart from helping you breathe better, these pillows will help you relieve neck and upper spinal pain.
This should be your last resort when every other suggestion fails. Throat surgery can be done to widen the airway and thus prevent obstruction. But this comes with possible complications and you need to try the other options before resorting to this.
Understanding what sleep apnea is and what causes it is important in finding the best cure for it. While there is no specific method that is 100% reliable, the above options can help you get rid of this sleeping disorder or at least put it under manageable levels.