IS IT JUST SNORING OR IS IT SLEEP APNEA?
Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, and not everyone who has sleep apnea snores. So how do you tell the difference between normal snoring and a more serious case of sleep apnea?
The biggest telltale sign is how you feel during the day. Normal snoring doesn’t interfere with the quality of your sleep as much as sleep apnea does, so you’re less likely to suffer from extreme fatigue and sleepiness during the day.
There are two main types of sleep apnea:
Obstructive sleep apnea: the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax.
Central sleep apnea: which occurs when your brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
MAJOR SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF SLEEP APNEA
If pauses occur while you snore, and if choking or gasping follow the pauses, these are major signs that you have sleep apnea.
Another common sign of sleep apnea is fighting sleepiness during the day, at work, or while driving. You may find yourself rapidly falling asleep during the quiet moments of the day when you're not active.
Other common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea:
Memory or learning problems and not being able to concentrate
Feeling irritable, depressed, or having mood swings or personality changes
Waking up frequently to urinate
Dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up
Even if you don’t have sleep apnea, a snoring problem can get in the way of your bed partner’s rest and affect your own sleep quality and health. But there are plenty of tips and treatments that can help.
You have a higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea if you are:
Related to someone who has sleep apnea
Over the age of 65
Black, Hispanic, or a Pacific Islander
Dental appliances, oral devices, and lower jaw-positioners often resemble an athlete’s mouth guard. They help open your airway by bringing your lower jaw or your tongue forward during sleep.
Sleep Apnea And Snoring
Sleep apnea affects the way you breathe when you’re sleeping. In untreated sleep apnea, breathing is briefly interrupted or becomes very shallow during sleep. These breathing pauses typically last between 10 to 20 seconds and can occur up to hundreds of times a night, jolting you out of your natural sleep rhythm. As a consequence, you spend more time in light sleep and less time in the deep, restorative sleep you need to be energetic, mentally sharp, and productive the next day.
This chronic sleep deprivation results in daytime sleepiness, slow reflexes, poor concentration, and an increased risk of accidents. Sleep apnea can also lead to serious health problems over time, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and weight gain. But with treatment you can control the symptoms, get your sleep back on track, and start enjoy being refreshed and alert every day.
MEDICAL TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR SLEEP APNEA
If your sleep apnea is moderate to severe, or you’ve tried self-help strategies and lifestyle changes without success, it’s important to see a doctor. A sleep specialist can evaluate your symptoms and help you find an effective treatment. Treatment for sleep apnea has come a long way in recent times, so take some time to explore the new options. Even if you were unhappy with sleep apnea treatment in the past, chances are you can find something that works and feels comfortable to you.
Treatments for central and complex sleep apnea usually include:
Treating the underlying medical condition causing the apnea, such as a heart or neuromuscular disorder
Using supplemental oxygen while you sleep
Using breathing devices that will also manage obstructive sleep apnea
Medications are only available to treat the sleepiness associated with sleep apnea, not the apnea itself, so they should only be used in conjunction with other proven sleep apnea treatments
Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) is the most common treatment for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. In many cases, you’ll experience immediate symptom relief and a huge boost in your mental and physical energy. The CPAP device is a mask-like machine that provides a constant stream of air that keeps your breathing passages open while you sleep. Most CPAP devices are the size of a tissue box.
CPAP WITHOUT A MASK
One of the newest treatment options for sleep apnea is an alternative form of CPAP called Provent, a device that fits over the nostrils and is smaller and less intrusive than the traditional CPAP machine. If you haven't been able to adjust to the CPAP mask, ask your doctor about Provent. Keep in mind that Provent, however, is more expensive than regular CPAP machines, and it doesn't work for everyone.
SELF-HELP TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR SLEEP APNEA
While a diagnosis of sleep apnea can be scary, it is a treatable condition. In fact, there are many things you can do on your own to help, particularly for mild to moderate sleep apnea. Home remedies and lifestyle modifications can go a long way in reducing sleep apnea symptoms.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WEIGHT LOSS
People who are overweight 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.
Though losing weight is easier said than done, it can yield real results. If people lose weight, it would make both sleep apnea and other health problems [such as heart disease] go away. Losing just 10% of body weight can have a big effect on sleep apnea symptoms. In some cases, losing a significant amount of weight can even cure the condition.
Other lifestyle changes that can help sleep apnea include:
Quitting smoking. Smoking is believed to contribute to sleep apnea by increasing inflammation and fluid retention in your throat and upper airway.
Avoiding alcohol, sleeping pills, and sedatives, especially before bedtime as they relax the muscles in the throat and interfere with breathing.
Avoiding caffeine and heavy meals within two hours of going to bed.
Maintaining regular sleep hours. Sticking to a steady sleep schedule will help you relax and sleep better. Apnea episodes decrease when you get plenty of sleep.
Bedtime tips for preventing sleep apnea:
Sleep on your side. Avoid sleeping on your back, as gravity makes it more likely for your tongue and soft tissues to drop and obstruct your airway.
The tennis ball trick. In order to keep yourself from rolling onto your back while you sleep, sew a tennis ball into a pocket on the back of your pajama top. Or wedge a pillow stuffed with tennis balls behind your back.
Prop your head up. Elevate the head of your bed by four to six inches or elevate your body from the waist up by using a foam wedge. You can also use a special cervical pillow.
Open your nasal passages. Try to keep your nasal passages open at night using a nasal dilator, saline spray, breathing strips, or a neti pot.
Throat exercises may also reduce the severity of sleep apnea by strengthening the muscles in the airway, making them less likely to collapse.
Try these exercises:
Press your tongue flat against the floor of your mouth and brush top and sides with a toothbrush. Repeat brushing movement five times, three times a day.
Press the length of your tongue to roof of your mouth and hold for three minutes a day.
Place a finger into one side of your mouth. Hold the finger against your cheek while pulling the cheek muscle in at same time. Repeat 10 times, rest, and then alternate sides. Repeat this sequence three times.
Purse your lips as if to kiss. Hold your lips tightly together and move them up and to the right, then up and to the left 10 times. Repeat this sequence three times.
Place your lips on a balloon. Take a deep breath through your nose then blow out through your mouth to inflate the balloon as much as possible. Repeat this five times without removing balloon from your mouth.
OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax. These muscles support the soft palate, the triangular piece of tissue hanging from the soft palate (uvula), the tonsils, the side walls of the throat and the tongue.
When the muscles relax, your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in, and you can't get an adequate breath in. This may lower the level of oxygen in your blood. Your brain senses this inability to breathe and briefly rouses you from sleep so you can reopen your airway. This awakening is usually so brief that you don't remember it.
You may make a snorting, choking or gasping sound. This pattern can repeat itself five to 30 times or more each hour, all night long. These disruptions impair your ability to reach the desired deep, restful phases of sleep, and you'll probably feel sleepy during your waking hours.
People with obstructive sleep apnea may not be aware that their sleep was interrupted. In fact, some people with this type of sleep apnea think they sleep well all night.
Other risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea include certain physical attributes, such as having a thick neck, deviated septum, receding chin, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids (the most common cause of sleep apnea in children). Your airway may be blocked or narrowed during sleep simply because your throat muscles tend to relax more than normal. Allergies or other medical conditions that cause nasal congestion and blockage can also contribute to sleep apnea.
CENTRAL SLEEP APNEA
Central sleep apnea, which is much less common, occurs when your brain fails to transmit signals to your breathing muscles. You may awaken with shortness of breath or have a difficult time getting to sleep or staying asleep. Like with obstructive sleep apnea, snoring and daytime sleepiness can occur. The most common cause of central sleep apnea is heart failure and, less commonly, a stroke. People with central sleep apnea may be more likely to remember awakening than are people with obstructive sleep apnea.
Like obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea is more common in males and people over the age of 65. However, unlike obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea is often associated with serious illness, such as heart disease, stroke, neurological disease, or spinal or brainstem injury.