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Does your partner complain about your loud snoring keeping them awake at night? Are you waking up still feeling tired? You could be suffering from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder, yet often is left undiagnosed or not taken as seriously as other sleep disorders. According to Better Health it is estimated that approximately 5% of Australians suffer from sleep apnea, with around one in four men over the age of 30 years affected. 

What is sleep apnea
The literal meaning of the Greek word “apnea” is “without breath.” Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where an individual’s throat becomes partly or completely blocked causing them to stop breathing. This can occur hundreds of times and often for a minute or longer during the night. In most cases the sleeper is actually unaware of these breath blockages, as they don’t awaken.

Symptoms of sleep apnea

  • Snoring
  • Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — noticed by another person
  • Gasping for air during sleep or waking up gasping
  • Awakening with a dry mouth
  • Morning headache
  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  • Difficulty paying attention while awake
  • Tossing and turning
  • Tiredness and feeling unrefreshed after sleep
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor memory
  • Low Energy

Types of sleep apnea
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. The most common and well-known type is obstructive sleep apnea. This occurs when the soft tissue in the back of the throat relaxes during sleep and blocks the airway. Central sleep apnea is when the brain fails to signal the muscles that control breathing. As the name suggests, mixed sleep apnea is a combination of the two (American Sleep Apnea Association, 2020).

Treatment
Making lifestyle changes is a great and effective way of lessening your symptoms. This includes; losing weight, eating healthy, cutting down on alcohol and not smoking. You can also try changing your sleep position. Sleeping on your back when you suffer from sleep apnea isn’t recommend, as it can narrow your airways making breathing more difficult. Research has suggested that sleeping on your side is ideal. When sleeping on your side, your airways are left open and your head and neck are aligned, opening nasal airway passages. This may help prevent snoring and ease your breathing.

Additional to lifestyle changes, the most effective treatment is a mask worn at night that prevents the throat from collapsing by transmitting increased air pressure to the collapsible segment of the throat. This is called ‘nasal continuous positive airway pressure’ (CPAP) (Better Health, 2020).

There are other treatment options available (oral appliances and surgery) but it is recommended that you speak to a health professional about what the best treatment option for you will be.

Other complications and health risks
Sleep apnea can result in; high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, liver problems, diabetes, headaches, moodiness, irritability, and can lead to depression. Sleep apnea more often than not will result in daytime sleepiness, slow reflexes, poor concentration, and an increased risk of accidents. According to Snore Australia people with sleep apnoea are 4 to 9 times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident.

There is also a major link between excess weight and sleep apnea. It is common for people who are overweight to have extra tissue in the back of their throat, which can fall down over the airway and block the flow of air into the lungs while they sleep. It is said that losing just 10% of body weight can make a big difference to your sleep apnea symptoms. In some cases, losing a significant amount of weight can even cure the condition (HelpGuide, 2020).

Due to lack of awareness, most sleep apnea sufferers remain undiagnosed and therefore left untreated. Sleep apnea is not something that should be taken lightly or ignored. It can take a serious toll on not only your physical but also mental health. But with the right treatment, you can be on track to a better night’s sleep.

References

Better Health, 2020, Sleep apnoea, [online] Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/sleep-apnoea

Help Guide, 2020, Sleep Apnea, [online] Available at: 
https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/sleep-apnea.htm

Snore Australia, 2020, Obstructive sleep apnoea, [online] Available at: https://www.snoreaustralia.com.au/obstructive-sleep-apnoea.php

American Sleep Apnea Association, 2020, What is sleep apnea?, [online] Available at: https://www.sleepapnea.org/learn/sleep-apnea/

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