Catching some Zzz’s. Getting your beauty sleep. Hitting the hay. Whatever you call it; sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. But while you may think you are “out like a light” you may not be getting the quality of sleep you need. A common sleep disorder could be causing you more than just sleepy days; it could be seriously impacting your health.
Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which breathing stops or gets very shallow while sleeping and can be very serious. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association it is estimated that 22 million American adults have sleep apnea, but around 80% of people with the disorder are undiagnosed.
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. In people with obstructive sleep apnea, the airway collapses blocking the flow of air into the lungs and causing an interruption in normal breathing. When this happens, the amount of oxygen in a person’s blood may drop. Normal breaths then start again with a loud snort or choking sound.
For those suffering from sleep apnea, sleep is not restful because sufferers move out of deep sleep and into light sleep many times during the night, resulting in poor sleep quality. And as everyone knows, when sleep is upset throughout the night, you can be very sleepy during the day.
While not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, people with sleep apnea often snore loudly. Most people don’t know they are having problems breathing while they are sleeping. Often, a spouse or bed partner may notice the signs of sleep apnea first.
Signs of Sleep Apnea
- Loud snoring
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Waking up at night short of breath
- Breathing stops for short periods a night – this is usually observed by someone else
- Dry mouth or sore throat in the morning
- Chest pain upon waking
- Morning headaches
- Mood instability
According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep disorders are associated with a growing number of medical problems including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and cancer. In addition to putting you at risk for certain diseases, excessive daytime sleepiness can increase your odds of injury in work-related or automobile accidents.
If you think you might have sleep apnea, talk with your doctor. They may order a sleep study, a test that is often done in a sleep center or sleep laboratory. The study is painless. You go to sleep as usual while staff monitors your sleep throughout the night. The results are analyzed by a sleep medicine specialist to determine if you have sleep apnea, how severe it is, and what treatment may be recommended.
Treatment is aimed at restoring regular nighttime breathing and relieving symptoms such as very loud snoring and daytime sleepiness. Treatment may also help associated medical problems such as high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. CPAP users wear a mask during sleep which blows air into the throat at a pressure level just enough to stop the airways from getting too small. The increased airway pressure keeps the throat open during sleep and prevents apnea.
If you think you or a loved may be suffering from sleep apnea, don’t let sleeping dogs lie. Encourage them to seek medical attention. Not only will it improve their ability to get a restful night’s sleep, it could also improve their health and potentially protect them from future medical problems.
SSM Health at Home is a nonprofit organization providing a variety of comprehensive home care services, including home health, hospice, medical equipment, infusion pharmacy and community health. We offer informational visits to anyone interested in learning more about how our services can help, whether their needs are today or they are planning for tomorrow. For more information or to schedule an informational visit, contact us at ssmhealthathomeWI.com or call 800-924-2273.