What would you do if you experienced choking, gasping for air, and shortness of breath, multiple times an hour, while going about your daily activities? You would probably drop whatever you are doing and get yourself to the nearest hospital.
For people with sleep apnea, this is a common scenario, except that it happens during sleep, which means that it happens mostly undetected. Characterized by repeated pauses in breathing, sleep apnea can be categorized into three types: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA), and mixed sleep apnea.
OSA, the most common of the three types, occurs when the soft tissues at the back of the mouth relax, and partially, or completely, block the airway. When this happens, the brain signals the body to wake up and resume breathing, resulting in poor sleep quality. Moderate to severe OSA can be managed through continuous positive airway pressure therapy, which requires the use of CPAP masks, and a CPAP machine which delivers continuous air, to keep your airway passages open.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea Prevalence
According to a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, nearly a billion adults, worldwide, suffer from OSA. 85% of these sleep apnea sufferers remain undiagnosed, which means that many millions of adults, around the world, experience repeated sleep interruptions every night. These people have no idea that they are not getting the restorative sleep which is essential for optimum health.
Do You Have Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
OSA is a serious disorder which can lead to life-threatening health issues, that include high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. Living a healthy life with OSA is possible, but it requires proper diagnosis and management. Unfortunately, because of lack of knowledge regarding sleep apnea, and sleep health in general, people with the condition fail to recognize their symptoms.
Snoring is perhaps the most obvious symptom of sleep apnea, but not all sleep apnea sufferers snore. Moreover, people do not usually go to the doctor to address snoring, unless it gets too loud, and disrupts the sleep of other people. Here are other signs that should encourage you to consult with your doctor for a sleep apnea disorder diagnosis:
- Restless Sleep – If you toss and turn through the night, you could have sleep apnea. You might not be aware of it, but your sleep gets interrupted every time an apnea event occurs. You can have as many as 30 apnea events in one hour, which means that your sleep cycle gets interrupted numerous times, causing you to kick and thrash in bed. Sleep apnea can also cause insomnia in older adults, who find it difficult to go back to sleep, after their slumber has been interrupted.
- Morning Headaches – When your airway gets blocked during sleep, the amount of oxygen in your blood drops significantly. Headaches, hypertension, heart attacks, and strokes, can ensue, if your brain does not receive enough oxygen through circulating blood. Waking up in the morning with a headache, can also make you fatigued, irritable moody, and unproductive.
- Depression and Anxiety – According to a study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 54% of OSA sufferers experience anxiety, while 46% demonstrated depressive symptoms.
Depression and sleep apnea symptoms can overlap. This is a classic chicken and egg scenario, where OSA can lead to depression and anxiety, and vice-versa. In many cases, managing sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can prove to be beneficial in decreasing depression and anxiety.
Low Libido and Erectile Dysfunction – If you suddenly find yourself underperforming in bed, you might be suffering from sleep apnea. Lack of sleep results in low testosterone (sex hormone) levels, which then cause a low sex drive, and strained relationships. Some people report an improvement in their relationships, and sex life, after getting treatment for OSA.
Night Sweats – Do you wake up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat? OSA might be the culprit. When your airway gets blocked, your body works doubly hard to breathe again, which can cause your body to go into overdrive mode. As your body struggles to resume breathing, it releases the stress hormone cortisol, which triggers you to sweat. If you have no underlying conditions that cause night sweats, it is time to consider being examined by your doctor, to get answers, and relief from this symptom.
Do not wait for your symptoms to worsen. Take charge of your health. Get diagnosed and treated early, to improve your quality of life; and to lessen your risk for life-threatening conditions normally associated with obstructive sleep apnea.