Causes, Effects, and Solutions
You wake up with large bags under your eyes and an unshakable lethargy. It feels as though you have stayed up all night. You tried. You really did. You went to bed an hour early, hoping that you would benefit from the extra rest, but no. You still feel exhausted.
This feeling is not completely unique. In fact, many people across the world suffer from similar problems of seemingly poor sleep. They get the requisite number of slumber hours, but somehow feel more tired than when they lay down the night before. This is a factor of quality over quantity.
According to leading experts, hundreds of thousands of people are affected by undiagnosed sleep disorders, and one of the most common culprits is Sleep Apnea.
Causes, Effects, and Solutions
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is actually pretty simple. It is a very common sleeping disorder in which a person involuntarily stops breathing while they sleep. Often, those affected experience this many times throughout the night. After a sleep study, some people even discover that they stop breathing hundreds of times during the night. Most of the time this is just a momentary pause followed by a choking or snorting sound.
There are three main types of Sleep Apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. We won’t get too deep into the technical details, except to say that the most common type of Sleep Apnea is obstructive (OSA), and that this type of Sleep Apnea is caused by a blockage in the airway, usually from collapsed soft tissue in the back of the throat. Central Sleep Apnea is caused when the brain doesn’t send the right signals to the body in order to continue breathing normally during sleep, and mixed Sleep Apnea is obviously a combination of obstructive and central.
Whenever the breathing slows or stops because of Sleep Apnea, it sends a message to the brain to rouse the sleeper, but only slightly. The body only brings them out of a deep sleep and into a light sleep. If this continually happens throughout the night, the sleeper never really receives a restful slumber, making them tired and sleepy during the next day.
“Sleep Apnea goes undiagnosed in thousands of patients,” Birmingham, Alabama Family Medicine Physician, Dr. Ankrehah Johnson said. “The symptoms are so vague that people fail to realize there is a problem.”
The indicators, aside from being consistently tired during the day, are more often noticed by a sleeping partner who can hear the breathing problems and even notice periods of time where they actually appear to be holding their breath during sleep. Snoring, while usually present in those with Sleep Apnea, is not always a direct indicator of Sleep Apnea. Some people snore who do not have the disorder.
Over time, those who don’t get a good sleep end up having health problems. Aside from the problems a lack of sleep can have on the system, the sleeper can also suffer from a lack of oxygen throughout the night. Since we spend a third of our life sleeping, this can cause more serious health problems down the road. Dr. Ankrehah Johnson, who affectionately goes by Dr. Kre and hosts an online show titled Dr. Kre & Me, warned about these lasting effects.
“Sleep Apnea can cause early morning headaches, uncontrolled blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, excessive sleepiness and an increase in the number of car accidents in the undiagnosed,” Dr. Kre said. “Though the usual patient is overweight there are cases where patients with Sleep Apnea are not overweight, but instead have small mouth anatomy.”
Are There Solutions?
Since this problem affects so many people, in recent years there have been breakthroughs in non-invasive treatments for Sleep Apnea. The most common, and arguably most effective, treatment option is something called a CPAP machine.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machines work by gently increasing the air pressure in your breathing passages through a face or nasal mask. This works by keeping the collapsing soft tissue from obstructing the airway as the extra pressure slightly pushes open that area of the throat and increases airflow. For many this is the best option, but it can also be a bit cumbersome and annoying as something must be fastened to the patient’s face during sleep.
“The main treatments are mouth appliances, CPAP machines, bands to keep the mouth closed and nasal strips,” Ph. D. and CEO of BreatheSimple, Dr. Anthony Warren said. “Of these, CPAP masks are the most effective but many people cannot use them, certainly not all the time in any case.”
Outside of the CPAP machines, the dental appliances that resemble sports mouth guards are the most often used. Their design keeps the mouth and jaw positioned in such as way as to prevent the obstruction at the back of the throat, but some people find them to be less effective or uncomfortable.
Recent research into the effects of breathing exercises on the breathing control centers in the brain has created another method of combating the problems of Sleep Apnea. Dr. Warren’s company BreathSimple has taken his research and testing and created a mobile app to help apnea and snoring sufferers break free of their nightly interruptions.
“Apnea can be alleviated by modifying the breathing patterns using breathing exercises,” Dr. Warren said. “This is achieved via a mechanism called neuroplasticity. The exercises have the sufferer simulate apnea attacks by progressively holding their breath – this is called mild periodic hypoxia, and has been shown to be effective in a number of independent trials.”
Warren states that after completing several weeks of these breathing exercises, the automatic breathing control center of the brain is modified. The brain is then able to more quickly detect the breathing interruption and rectify the situation without disturbing deep sleep.
“Of course it may not work for everyone,” Dr. Warren explained. “CPAP machines are certainly effective – but for those that don’t or can’t wear a mask at night, this is a non-invasive, low-cost alternative.”
Finding What’s Right
No matter the solution you choose, make sure to consult a medical professional in order to get personalized assistance. Talk to your doctor about all the options, and explore the facts. While machines, appliances, and mobile apps all have their drawbacks, a customized approach to your health issues is always the smart way to go.
Have you tried other remedies for Sleep Apnea? Leave us a comment below and share your story.