After carefully assessing your symptoms, and seeing the results of your home sleep test, your doctor confirms what he has suspected all along: you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
This explains why you choke in your sleep sometimes, and why you feel exhausted these days, even after a seemingly good night’s rest. The muscles at the back of your mouth collapse during sleep, blocking your airway, and temporarily putting your breathing on hold. Your brain, sensing that you have stopped breathing, wakes you up so you can breathe again. Unknown to you, these tiny sleep interruptions are wreaking havoc, not just on your sleep, but more so on your overall health.
A Global Health Problem
A common sleep disorder, OSA has become a public health threat, affecting about 25 million adults in the US alone. Fortunately for some patients, mild cases of OSA can be reversed through lifestyle changes and/ or surgery. Moderate to severe OSA may not be reversible, but it can be managed.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, (AASM), recommends continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) as standard management for people who suffer from moderate to severe OSA. This entails the use of CPAP devices that deliver continuous air to the nose and mouth during sleep, thereby keeping the airway open.
While CPAP therapy has a high rate of effectiveness, many people who suffer from OSA give up on using their CPAP device. Based on data collected over a 20-year period, only 66% of CPAP users adhere to the therapy. Common reasons cited for abandoning CPAP therapy include discomfort, and air pressure that is either too strong or too weak. This is why people with OSA need to make sure that they get the best CPAP machine that’s right for their needs.
Sleep Apnea Support – A Must Have
Sleep medicine is a fairly new science, which is why many people who have sleep apnea remain undiagnosed, and therefore untreated. Those diagnosed with the condition fare a lot better than the undiagnosed ones, but only if they stick to the treatment plan or therapy created for them.
People with sleep apnea wake multiple times a night, disrupting the sleep cycle. This disruption precludes you from reaching the deep and restorative level of sleep that is necessary for the proper functioning of your body and immune system.
Because of poor sleep quality, you might feel tired and drowsy during the day. You could be distracted, which could result in accidents, at work or on the road. Exhaustion could also make you irritable and moody, which could cause a strain in your personal relationships.
A sleep apnea sufferer is no stranger to fatigue. When you are exhausted, you do not want to exercise. Without exercise, you risk gaining weight, which could be a precursor to conditions such as:
- Obesity – Lack of sleep does not just leave you drained; it also affects your appetite. As you sleep, your body regulates ghrelin and leptin, the hormones responsible for your hunger pangs. Inadequate sleep throws these hormones out of whack, and makes you feel like you need to eat more. Being tired also makes you crave calorie-laden sweets, and caffeine-loaded beverages, that would momentarily give you a burst of energy, and a hard-to-get-rid-of paunch.
- Diabetes – Unchecked obesity increases inflammation in the body, which can result in insulin resistance. When the body’s cells stop responding to the insulin the body produces, the level of sugar in the blood goes up, causing Type-2 diabetes.
- High Blood Pressure – When you stop breathing during apnea episodes, your oxygen level decreases. In response, your body releases the stress hormone epinephrine, more commonly known as adrenaline, which increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, this continuous release of adrenaline, due to untreated sleep apnea, can lead to hypertension.
- Heart Disease – Untreated high blood pressure can damage your arteries, which thicken with fat that enters your bloodstream. The arteries become narrow, limiting blood flow. A weak artery can swell, and form an aneurysm, which can rupture, and cause internal bleeding. Damaged arteries and hypertension can also lead to heart problems, like coronary artery disease, cardiac arrest, and heart failure.
- Stroke – High blood pressure can also damage blood vessels and form blood clots. These clots can form in the arteries and block blood flow to the brain, causing stroke.
You do not need to suffer these conditions just because you have sleep apnea. With a proper lifestyle, and a supportive sleep apnea treatment, you can have OSA and still live a fairly healthy life.