Welcome back! Last week we talked about Insomnia. UGH…we’ve all been there. If you missed that blog and would like to catch up, click HERE.
This week, we are going to discuss Sleep Apnea. I know many people who sleep with sleep apnea equipment, and they say it makes all the difference in the world. They wake up refreshed, clear-headed, and ready to face the day. They sleep longer and deeper when wearing the apparatus. OK, so why is that?
First of all, let’s define sleep apnea. Since I am not a doctor, only a blogger, I went to the Mayo Clinic for my definition.
“Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, you might have sleep apnea.
The main types of sleep apnea are:
- 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
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea
“If you think you might have sleep apnea, see your doctor. Treatment can ease your symptoms and might help prevent heart problems and other complications“.
Now let’s talk about how it is diagnosed. Again, we refer to the Mayo Clinic for answers.
“An evaluation often involves overnight monitoring at a sleep center of your breathing and other body functions during sleep. Home sleep testing also might be an option. Tests to detect sleep apnea include:
- Nocturnal polysomnography. During this test, you’re hooked up to equipment that monitors your heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels while you sleep.
- Home sleep tests. Your doctor might provide you with simplified tests to be used at home to diagnose sleep apnea. These tests usually measure your heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow and breathing patterns. If the results are abnormal, your doctor might be able to prescribe a therapy without further testing. Portable monitoring devices don’t detect all cases of sleep apnea, however, so your doctor might still recommend polysomnography even if your initial results are normal.
If you have obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor might refer you to an ear, nose and throat doctor to rule out a blockage in your nose or throat. An evaluation by a heart doctor (cardiologist) or a doctor who specializes in the nervous system (neurologist) might be necessary to look for causes of central sleep apnea.“
So now that you have the diagnosis, and you’ve been fitted with your breathing apparatus, why should you follow through? “I live alone” you might say, “It doesn’t matter if I snore“.
Just to be clear, snoring itself isn’t sleep apnea, but it can be a symptom of sleep apnea. Let’s hop over to John Hopkins (no pun intended) to see what they say about the risks of untreated sleep apnea.
“Snoring is just the vibration sound created by airway resistance. You can snore loudly and not have sleep apnea, and you may even have sleep apnea without much snoring.
“People with sleep apnea might also suffer from unexplained fatigue and mood swings because their breathing interruptions continually wake them and prevent them from settling into a deep, nourishing sleep.
“The consequences can be significant. We’re talking about car accidents in the daytime, lost productivity at work, mood swings, waking up feeling groggy and falling asleep in class.
“Other sufferers might wake up with a dry mouth, since sleep apnea tends to make you breathe with an open mouth, drying out your saliva. Some awaken with a headache, which may be caused by low oxygen or high carbon dioxide levels during sleep.
“Several studies have shown an association between sleep apnea and problems like type 2 diabetes, strokes, heart attacks, and even a shortened lifespan. Evidence suggests an independent link between sleep apnea and diabetes“.
So now that we know we have sleep apnea, and we understand why we should opt for treatment, so what comes next? The CPAP machine!
“The main choice of therapy is a breathing device called a CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure machine. A CPAP machine pipes humidified air through the nose, which creates air pressure to keep your throat open while asleep. This prevents pauses in breathing.
“A recent Johns Hopkins study looked at what happens to metabolism at night when sleep apnea patients don’t wear their CPAP. The study found that the resulting apnea caused a spike in blood sugar, heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones—a response similar to what might happen if you were asked to get up in front of a crowd to speak“.
Wow. That’s intense. Can you imagine your body putting up with that type of stress for not just days but years? Horrible!
Now, if you’re like me, you can’t imagine sleeping with something covering your face. It’s a claustrophobic feeling. They actually have lots of different choices when it comes to treating your sleep apnea! They have masks that fit over the entire nose and mouth, they have masks that only cover the underside of the nose, they have mouth guards that you wear like a retainer to keep the tongue down and many other options. Your sleep study doctor will be the one to tell you which choice is best for you.
When my husband and I got married, I realized right away that he was having moments of not breathing during the night. He would kick his legs and punch the air as if in a fight during a dream. One night things came to a head, and he reached over in his sleep and grabbed my hair. I couldn’t get him to release his grip. His knuckles were tight against my scalp, and I thought he was going to pull my hair out.
The next morning I googled, “my husband stops breathing at night“. Sleep apnea popped up. I convinced him to make an appointment. He agreed to go just to prove that he didn’t have it. That was fine with me. It turned out that his sleep apnea was so severe, that just 30 minutes into the testing they put him on a CPAP machine, and told him he may need what they called a “BIPAP” because his condition was so severe.
There were times during the night when he would have his oxygen drop to 54. To give you a comparison, if you are in the hospital and your oxygen drops below 90, they will put you on an oxygen tank. My late father would get confused when his oxygen saturation rate dropped to 85, and not know who he was or where he was. This gives you an idea of just how bad my husband’s condition was.
If you are thinking to yourself, “It’s not very sexy to go to bed with a contraption on your face“, I’m here to tell you that my husband felt the same way. But you know what? I’d much rather have him sleeping next to me knowing his health is improved by wearing that mask, than have him sleeping next to me, snoring, thrashing about in his sleep due to low oxygen levels, and in the long run potentially damaging his health.
I love him madly, regardless of what he wears on his face when he sleeps. You don’t put on the mask until you are ready to sleep (if you get my drift). So if you are going to sleep anyway, then it doesn’t really matter what is on your face, now does it?
Well, friends, there you have it. Sleep Apnea. The good, the bad, and the ugly. This informational video runs for approximately 2 minutes. Sleep medicine specialist Aris Iatridis, M.D., explains what patients can expect when they undergo a sleep study to test for sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.
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