How to Stay Well Rested with Sleep Apnea
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

How to Stay Well Rested with Sleep Apnea

Getting a good night's sleep is crucial for our health and well-being, but for many people, it is not as simple as it sounds. Sleep apnea is a common disorder that can disrupt your slumber and leave you feeling exhausted.

Affecting an estimated 39 million Americans—including children—sleep apnea is not just about a lousy night’s sleep. It is a serious and even potentially life-threatening disorder that, when left untreated, can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression, and an increased risk of dementia. In fact, people with severe untreated apnea have three times the risk of dying from any cause. 

What makes sleep apnea so dangerous is that is causes you to repeatedly stop and start breathing while sleeping. These interruptions can last from a few seconds or up to a minute at a time and may occur multiple times per hour. Very often, people with sleep apnea find themselves gasping or choking awake throughout the night. Apart from the sheer terror of the experience, repeated wakings interfere with sleep quality and make restorative sleep impossible.

While there are two types of sleep apnea—central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—the most common type is OSA.  This occurs when the muscles in the throat relax too much, causing a blockage of the upper airway. Symptoms of OSA include:

In Adults

Excessive daytime sleepiness 

Loud snoring interrupted by choking or gasping for air

Restless sleep

Dry mouth or headache upon waking

Excessive daytime sleepiness

Reduced ability to focus

Depression, anxiety, or irritability

 

In Children

Bedwetting

Exacerbated asthma

Hyperactivity

Learning and academic performance issues

To diagnose OSA, your doctor will likely recommend a sleep study, also known as a polysomnogram. This overnight test is typically conducted in a sleep lab or, in some cases, at home with a portable monitoring device. While not an option for everyone, sleep studies are beneficial for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 who have a high probability of moderate-to-severe OSA and no other medical conditions.

During the sleep study, sensors are attached to your body to monitor your brain waves, breathing patterns, oxygen levels, and other vital signs while you sleep.

In some cases, other testing may need to be performed, such as:

  • Multiple Sleep Latency Testing, or a daytime nap study, to measure excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Maintenance of Wakefulness Test to test whether you are able to stay awake for a defined period of time

This data gathered will help your healthcare provider determine the severity of your sleep apnea and the most appropriate treatment plan.

 Common treatment options include:

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy 

Considered the gold standard treatment for OSA, a CPAP machine provides a constant flow of air to keep the airway open during sleep. The air is forced through a flexible plastic tube that connects to a facemask you wear while sleeping. 

Dental or Oral Appliances 

Used to treat mild to moderate OSA or for patients who cannot tolerate CPAP therapy, dental appliances are similar to a mouthguard. The appliance holds the lower jaw forward just enough to keep the airway open and prevents blockage in the upper airway. 

Surgical Treatments 

People with anatomical abnormalities such as enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids are frequently recommended for surgery. The success rate for this type of surgery is often as high as 95%.

Lifestyle Changes 

In some cases, simple lifestyle changes can dramatically improve symptoms of OSA. Common strategies include:

  • Losing weight 
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding alcohol before bed
  • Sleeping on your side versus your back

Do not let sleep apnea rob you of a good night's sleep or your good health. If you suspect you or a loved one may have sleep apnea, contact a healthcare provider to discuss getting diagnoses and treated.

 

Dr. Michael Algus is a pulmonary specialist who performs sleep testing at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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