How to Detect Sleep Apnea Early?
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where you have brief pauses in your sleep where you stop breathing. It is a more common disorder than many people realize and it can have serious consequences if not detected early enough and treated properly. If you have a loud snoring problem or find yourself waking up more tired than you were the night before, sleep apnea might be the culprit.
There are different types of sleep apnea. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea where the soft tissue in the back of your throat relaxes while you sleep and block your airway causing brief pauses in your breathing and loud snoring. Another type, central sleep apnea doesn’t usually cause snoring and is related to hitches in the central nervous system. Someone diagnosed with complex sleep apnea suffers from both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
If you suspect that you might have sleep apnea, it is best to see a sleep specialist as soon as possible. The chronic sleep deprivation that results from this disorder can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health. You feel exhausted all the time, can’t concentrate at work and are moody and irritable with everyone. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to increased risk for heart issues, metabolic disorders, liver disease and depression. Every aspect of your life can suffer from this disorder.
Here are some signs and symptoms to look for so you can detect sleep apnea early:
- Loud snoring
- Choking or gasping during sleep
- Pauses in breathing
- Waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air
- Chronic daytime fatigue no matter how much sleep you got the night before
- Insomnia or restless sleep
- Difficulty with concentration and memory during the day
- Changes in mood and behavior
- Headaches in the morning
Keep in mind that not everyone experiences the same symptoms and you might not actually be aware of the gasp of breaths during the night. Some symptoms are more subtle than others. If you know you are getting enough hours of sleep but still feel exhausted all day long, you should investigate why.
How do you tell the difference between sleep apnea and just plain snoring?
It is true. Sometime a snore is just a snore. So how do you tell the difference? Typically snoring doesn’t affect the quality of your sleep so if you find yourself with a lot of daytime fatigue and the urge to take lots of naps, then it is more likely to be sleep apnea that is the issue. See if you can record yourself sleeping or ask your sleep partner to offer insights on any gasping or choking sounds you make in the middle of the night.
Who are at most risk for sleep apnea?
Risk factors can vary depending on the type of sleep apnea. You have a higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea if you are overweight, male and have a family history of sleep apnea. Being over the age of 50, a smoker and having high blood pressure are also risk factors. Other physical characteristics that might be related include having a neck circumference larger than 15.75 inches, and having a deviated septum, receding chin, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Being susceptible to allergies or upper respiratory infections could also make you more prone to sleep apnea.
Central sleep apnea is usually related to more serious health issues like heart disease, stroke a neurological disease or a spine or brain injury. Recognize your risk factors.
How do you treat sleep apnea?
First and foremost, you need to see a sleep specialist as soon as possible. If there are any underlying medical conditions, it is important that they are treated first. Sleep apnea treatment also includes supplemental oxygen and breathing devices. Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) is the most common treatment and includes a mask that you put over your nose and mouth to keep a steady stream of air going in to help keep your breathing passages remain open.
In some cases a dental device is more affective. Usually a mouth guard or a head piece is fitted to bring your lower jaw or your tongue forward while you are sleeping to open up your airway. The most common oral devices are the mandibular repositioning device and the tongue retaining device. These devices can sometimes cause dental problems, however, so make sure you get them fitted by a dentist who specializes in treating sleep apnea and make sure the dentist is regularly monitoring your oral health.
Just recently approved by the FDA, a sleep apnea implant that acts like a pacemaker to stimulate the muscles to keep your airways open can also help people with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. For the most extreme cases, sometime surgery is needed to remove the tonsils, adenoids or excess tissue at the back of the throat is necessary. Make sure you and your doctor weigh the risk of infection and complications with the benefits of the surgery.
There are also lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your sleep apnea symptoms. A healthy diet and regular exercise are always important and if you are overweight, losing a few pounds will reduce the extra tissue at the back of their throat that can block the airway. Quit smoking and reducing your alcohol and caffeine consumption should also be on your to-do list.
Sticking to a regular sleep schedule is also crucial. Try sleeping on your side if you are not already doing so and try to keep your upper body elevated while you are in bed. You can either elevate the head of the bed four to six inches or use pillows to get the needed height. Also using a nasal dilator, breathing strips or a neti pot at night can also help you sleep better. Consider also purchasing a new mattress. Check out the different types available today and find one that makes it easier to sleep in an elevated position.
Bottom line: Don’t ignore symptoms of sleep apnea. Get the help you need and make modifications to your daily living so you can get the sleep you need to live a healthy life.