Obstructive Sleep Apnea Effect on Healthy Sleep
Very little is more disruptive to a good night’s sleep than waking up repeatedly gasping for air. This gasping is caused by a common condition called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in which the abnormal relaxation of the throat muscles restricts or blocks air during sleep. This triggers the brain to continually wake up the sleeper in order to breathe.
Not only does OSA lead to exhaustion from reduced sleep, but obstructive sleep apnea can increase blood pressure and put one at higher risk for a heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases.
So let’s take a closer look at this serious but prevalent condition, the risk factors, warning signs, and what you can do about it to get a better night’s sleep.
The risk factors and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea
If you’re concerned about OSA, there are specific warning signs and risk factors to look out for.
The most common signs are:
- Gasping during sleep
- Reduced or absent breathing
- Exhaustion from lack of sleep
Even though snoring often accompanies it, snoring by itself is not usually a sign of OSA.
The most common risk factors are:
- Older age
- Enlarged tonsils or chronic congestion
- Endocrine disorders like diabetes
- Neuromuscular disorders which cause muscle loss or weakness
- A family history of sleep disorders
- Heart or kidney failure
- Excessive alcohol use or smoking
- Frequent use of sleep-aids
- The use of narcotic pain medications
There’s also a relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and depression, and even with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you suspect that you might have OSA, it’s best to consult a doctor to have a polysomnogram test performed.
The most effective treatments for sleep apnea
Even if you have risk factors or are already experiencing some signs of OSA, there are steps you can take to improve your breathing at night. Your doctor might recommend one or more of these healthy lifestyle changes and other methods to improve airflow and help you get better sleep.
Maintain a healthy weight
There’s a relationship between obesity and the obstruction of airflow during sleep. Whether it’s with a well-balanced, nutritious diet or exercise, weight loss has been shown to reduce sleep apnea severity.
Reduce alcohol, smoking, and sedatives
Sleep aids, narcotics, and alcohol relax the throat muscles, causing a restriction in the upper airways and increasing the risk of sleep-disordered breathing. Additionally, smoking may promote inflammation and fluid retention in the airways. Research shows that quitting smoking not only reduces the severity of OSA, but also metabolic disorders—like insulin resistance—aggravated by it.
Address chronic ailments
Common conditions that interfere with normal breathing also worsen the severity of OSA. Acid reflux, congestion, and chronic coughs can all lead to more difficulty breathing and exasperate OSA. Reducing exposure to environmental allergens may help improve OSA symptoms.
Use a humidifier
Encouraging the sinuses to drain so more air can move freely through the airways may also be helpful. Research shows that using a humidifier helps in conjunction with the overall treatment of OSA.
Alter your sleep position
Breathing with ease might be as simple as changing your position. One study showed that symptoms of OSA in over half of the patients were dependent on sleep position. Sleeping on your side with a pillow under your head is best to alleviate sleep apnea.
Try an oral appliance
If none of the above tips improve your breathing and reduce symptoms of OSA, then your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter oral device called a snore guard or another device inserted by a dentist. A review shows that results from oral appliances vary and are more effective when combined with an overall sleep apnea treatment plan.
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