Affects of Sleep Apnea
First of all, if you have sleep apnea then you will stop breathing for short periods during your sleep. This affects your ability to stay in deep REM sleep. Left untreated, it can lead to some serious health risks including hypertension (high blood pressure), heart problems (including strokes) and mental and affective disorders due to lack of proper rest.
The lack of alertness can also lead to mistakes and accidents. You may also gain weight due to a lack of physical activity.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are two kinds sleep apnea. The difference between the two is the mechanism that stops your breathing. It is entirely possible to have both kinds of apnea at the same time.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The most common type of apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). This form of the disorder results from the collapse of your airway during sleep. When your airway closes off your lungs cannot pull in enough oxygen and your body kicks in to wake you up. You may or may not notice this waking period as you might not come fully awake, but your sleep is disrupted.
You may snore as your airways begin to constrict and then stop breathing for a few seconds. Often, you will have a sharp snore or snort as your body starts breathing again.
Central Sleep Apnea
The less common form of apnea is Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). In this case the problem is due to your diaphragm not receiving the proper signals to trigger a breath.
CSA is pretty silent, as you do not have the snoring and/or snorting that often accompanies OSA. However, the health risks are pretty much the same. This form of the disorder is harder to diagnose without a proper sleep study. Thankfully, it is also rarer.
Sleep apnea symptoms can be difficult for you to diagnose since you will not be fully awake at the time that your breathing stops. However, there may be some clues that lead you to get checked out.
First of all, a spouse or partner may notice the disrupted sleeping pattern. In my case, my wife was the one who noticed that my snoring had turned less regular and that I would often pause in my breathing at night. If you have someone who tells you that you seem to stop breathing in your sleep then you need to get some professional help. See your doctor and get a referral to a good sleep clinic.
Other clues include chronic sore throats (the effects of snoring and apnea are hard on the throat), morning headaches and general tiredness. Dry mouth is often reported as are frequent urination during the night, mood swings, depression and even impotence. Research is also finding that untreated apnea can increase the risk of hypertension and heart disease.
There is no clear consensus on the causes of sleep apnea. But there are some factors that seem to be relevant.
Obesity and age have long been considered front runners in the cause department, but we’re seeing an increase in the amount of patients diagnosed with sleep apnea who are younger (including children) and/or slim. However, evidence does support losing weight as a way of reducing the severity of apnea and some even have it disappear.
Sex also seems to be a factor as men are more likely to have it than women. However, risk increases for post menopausal women.
Research also shows that alcohol and smoking have a negative affect on sleep apnea.
Deal With It
If you suspect that you have sleep apnea then the first thing you need to do is have your doctor check it out. There are other diseases which have similar symptoms and you need to know what is causing your problems. If you do have sleep apnea then you will not be getting the proper amount of quality sleep. You may be spending a lot of time sleeping, but you never get into the restful REM sleep that you need.
I was able to fall asleep within 5 seconds of lying down in bed and sleep for 10 or more hours. Yet I was constantly tired and my head was in a fog. This is a dangerous state to find yourself in.
There are several different treatments that you can choose to combat this disorder. Different people respond differently to the various treatments, but most people will have success with CPAP treatments. Surgery and dental devices are also used with mixed results.
Losing weight, building muscle, oral exercises, and herbal remedies are also effective in some cases. Quitting or reducing your alcohol intake and smoking can also help. Your doctors will be able to discuss with you the pros and cons of different treatments.