Obstructive sleep apnea is on the rise, and that’s not a good thing. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, approximately “26 percent of adults between the ages of 30 and 70 years have sleep apnea” — or over 25 million people.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the throat relax in a way that temporarily blocks the upper airway. This impaired breathing eventually forces you to wake up briefly before returning to normal sleep. This can have a serious impact on your sleep quality and overall health.
Sleep apnea has been linked with a wide range of health problems, some of which also contribute to the development or worsening of this sleeping disorder. With sleep apnea becoming increasingly common, the importance of understanding its risk factors and symptoms is more important than ever.
By understanding what can lead to sleep apnea, you can be better positioned to make healthy lifestyle changes to prevent it, or to know when you need to start using CPAP therapy.
Sleep Apnea Risk Factors
As noted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a rising obesity rate in the United States is believed to be the primary culprit behind the increase in obstructive sleep apnea diagnoses in recent years. In fact, research has concluded that being overweight or obese contributes to over 70 percent of obstructive sleep apnea cases. This is because extra fat deposits increase the likelihood of the upper airway being blocked off during sleep.
Several other health conditions that are commonly related to obesity have also been found to contribute to obstructive sleep apnea. These include hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and polycystic ovary syndrome. Of course, these conditions can also be present independently of obesity.
Further complicating matters, many of these health problems operate in a vicious cycle with sleep apnea. For example, poor sleep quality will often result in increased blood pressure, which in turn worsens an individual’s sleep apnea. Without treatment, both conditions will continue to get worse.
While obesity is the top risk factor for developing obstructive sleep apnea, there are several uncontrollable factors that can also contribute to the disorder. For example, individuals with enlarged tonsils or narrow airways are generally more likely to experience obstructive sleep apnea.
These natural body traits increase the likelihood of chronic nasal congestion, which also increases one’s risk for obstructive sleep apnea. Those with asthma and other breathing disorders are also more likely to develop sleep apnea. Because of smoking’s effect on the lungs, it should hardly be surprising that it too increases sleep apnea risk.
Some factors are purely genetic. Men are far more likely to experience sleep apnea than women, and the risk for sleep apnea is known to increase with age among both sexes. It is also believed that individuals with a family history of this sleep disorder are also at a higher risk than the general population.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Of course, not everyone that is at risk for obstructive sleep apnea will develop this disorder. Because of this, it is important to understand which symptoms indicate a high likelihood of having this condition.
Recognizing the signs of sleep apnea isn’t always easy, because many of the symptoms occur during sleep. As a result, your partner may notice that something is wrong long before you do. The most common symptoms include loud snoring and periods where breathing stops during sleep, followed by an abrupt, short awakening as you gasp or choke for breath.
These incidences of interrupted breathing can occur up to hundreds of times throughout the night depending on the seriousness of your condition. However, because they occur so quickly, most people who experience these symptoms won’t remember what happened the next morning. If you don’t have a partner who observes these symptoms and informs you of what is happening, you will have to look for other warning signs.
The most obvious and common symptom is excessive fatigue during the day. You may be more prone to falling asleep at work or while watching TV, or you might experience trouble concentrating. A lack of sleep can also make you depressed or irritable, while also contributing to headaches and a sore throat in the morning.
While chronic fatigue may be caused by other sleep disorders, it is important that you schedule a sleep study if these problematic symptoms don’t seem to be going away. If left unchecked, poor sleep quality — regardless of the cause — can have significant negative consequences for your overall health.
Health Consequences of Sleep Apnea
Chronic fatigue from sleep apnea won’t just make you feel tired. It will cause you to have trouble going about your normal daily activities. Trouble concentrating can lead to declining performance at school or work, putting your career at risk. You might become increasingly irritable or anxious, which can negatively impact your interpersonal relationships.
Falling asleep in front of the TV may not seem like a big deal, but if you were to fall asleep while driving, you could cause a car accident that results in serious injury or death.
Sleep apnea can also directly contribute to other major health problems. Sleep apnea has been linked with an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues.
Type 2 diabetes, glaucoma, and depression are other potential consequences of untreated sleep apnea, illustrating just how widespread its impact can be on your well-being. As noted earlier, some of these conditions can cause sleep apnea to become even more severe, further harming your sleep quality.
Untreated sleep apnea can ultimately harm your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Because of this, if you have noticed symptoms of sleep apnea or believe you might have it based on your risk factors, you should consult with your doctor right away.
If your symptoms indicate the possibility of sleep apnea, you will likely be referred to a specialist at a sleep disorder center. Most individuals will undergo an overnight sleep test, during which their breathing patterns and blood oxygen levels, as well as brain, lung, and heart activity will be monitored throughout the night. These tests are considered the best way to determine if you have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, as well as their severity.
Why Treat Sleep Apnea With a CPAP Machine?
If your sleep test leads to a diagnosis of sleep apnea, your doctor will likely recommend that you start using a CPAP machine at night. As noted by the Johns Hopkins Medicine blog, “Whether or not you need treatment for sleep apnea depends on its severity, whether or not you have symptoms such as sleepiness and other health conditions. For example, if you have risk factors for heart disease, your doctor might opt to treat you even for mild sleep apnea. On the other hand, if you have a severe case of sleep apnea, your doctor might insist on treatment even if you’re not sleepy.”
Your doctor will also determine an air pressure setting to be used for your treatment. Most patients use a standard CPAP device, which will deliver the same amount of air pressure throughout the night, though a ramping feature may be used to gradually increase pressure while falling asleep. Others benefit from a BiPAP machine, which lowers air pressure during exhalation for more comfortable breathing.
In addition to the machine itself, the effectiveness of CPAP therapy will largely be dependent on mask selection. Options include full face masks, nasal pillows, and nasal masks. The mask that works best for you will largely depend on your sleeping habits, such as whether you breathe through your mouth at night or if you sleep on your back or on your side.
Adapting to a CPAP machine may take some getting used to, but it has been consistently found to be the most effective method of reducing sleep apnea incidents. Not only does using a CPAP machine help you sleep soundly throughout the night, but it can also mitigate many of the negative side effects associated with sleep apnea.
Studies comparing CPAP users to non-CPAP users who have sleep apnea have found that using a CPAP machine can help reduce the risk for depression, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and more. However, patients only experience such benefits if they comply with the CPAP therapy plan established with their medical provider.
Sometimes, CPAP users may not experience an immediate improvement in their symptoms. The mask may not fit properly, or discomfort with the delivered air pressure may cause them to unconsciously remove their mask during the night.
If you are experiencing such issues, this doesn’t mean that CPAP therapy isn’t for you. Rather, you should consult with your doctor to determine what adjustments need to be made so you can get the desired results from your therapy. Quite often, something as simple as switching to a different mask or adjusting pressure settings will be enough to improve your experience.
Other Tips For Improving Sleep Quality
While using a CPAP machine will go a long way in helping you enjoy higher-quality sleep, it isn’t the only thing that can help you sleep better at night. The activities you participate in before bed and the environment you create will have a direct impact on your ability to fall asleep.
Consider this tip from the American Sleep Apnea Association: “Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath and then reading a book or listening to soothing music. Excitement, stress or anxiety can make it more difficult to fall asleep or get sound, quality sleep. Avoid arousing activities before bedtime such as working, playing video games or paying bills.”
As a natural extension of this, it is recommended that you don’t keep computers or a TVs in the bedroom. Instead, create a cool, quiet, and comfortable environment that makes it easier to fall to sleep.
What you do with your body will also influence your ability to fall asleep. You should avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, as each of these substances can disrupt sleep patterns. It is also a good idea to avoid eating within two hours of your bedtime, as this can cause discomfort when trying to go to sleep.
Because sleep apnea often stems from an unhealthy body weight, establishing a consistent exercise routine and eating a balanced diet should also be top priorities. Not only does exercise help you maintain a healthy body weight, but exercising during the mid to late afternoon has also been found to make it easier to fall asleep at night.
Clearly, sleep apnea isn’t the only thing that can disrupt sleep. By taking steps to establish healthy sleep habits, you will feel more rested each morning and be better equipped to take on a new day.
While making healthy lifestyle changes can prevent the onset of sleep apnea for some, for others, this disorder is a lifelong condition that can never be truly “cured.” Managing one’s condition requires full adherence to CPAP therapy by using a CPAP machine in accordance with a prescription from a qualified medical professional.
Of course, CPAP machines and accessories aren’t cheap. And depending on your health insurance plan, you may not get much — if any — assistance to pay for your CPAP equipment from the insurance company.
You shouldn’t let this keep you from getting the treatment you need. Quality sleep is essential for your physical, mental, and emotional health. That’s why at Help Medical Supplies, we offer affordable CPAP bundles and other supplies at discounted prices so you can get quality treatment without breaking the bank.
To help you save even more, we also offer free shipping on orders over $89 and financing for orders over $200 — and if you pay your loan in full within six months, you don’t have to pay any interest.
Addressing sleep apnea before it causes major consequences for your overall health is essential for living the lifestyle you want. Don’t hesitate to see a doctor if you think you may have sleep apnea. Getting a diagnosis and undergoing CPAP therapy could completely transform your life for the better.