Sleep apnea is a disorder that affects respiratory function during sleep. It causes an individual to experience shallow breathing or brief pauses in breathing during sleep. The interruptions can occur repeatedly during the night and each pause may last for up to 15 to 20 seconds. Sleep apnea can prevent you from sleeping properly at night as it interferes with your natural sleep rhythm. Therefore you are likely to experience more of light sleep and not enough deep sleep which is necessary for restoration of the body. This can lead to several ill effects such as low energy, less productivity and reduced mental alertness during the day. Untreated sleep apnea can result in daytime sleepiness and sluggish reflexes. All of this can increase the risk of accidents. Sleep apnea may also affect health if left untreated. It can elevate the risk of developing conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease. With proper treatment, you can successfully manage the symptoms of sleep apnea. This will enable you to sleep better and also enjoy the benefits of proper and healthy sleep.
Sleep apneas ill effects are not just limited to your physical health, but because of its impact on sleep quality and your health, social relationships and your productivity will also begin to suffer.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Since the main symptoms of sleep apnea occur mostly during sleep, it may be difficult to identify them. Very often a family member or roommate is likely to notice some of the symptoms, before you do. The most common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are as follows:
- Pauses in breathing
- Loud snoring
- Choking or gasping during sleep
- Sleepiness during the day
There are certain other symptoms of sleep apnea which may indicate that you have a problem. These include:
- Restless sleep
- Feeling of breathlessness on waking up during the night
- Frequent trips to the bathroom during the night
- Waking up with a sore or dry mouth and throat
- Headache in the mornings
- Inability to concentrate properly
- Mood swings
Children may also suffer from sleep apnea. Apart from the usual indicators, children may exhibit certain other signs such as:
- Unusual sleeping positions
- Perspiring excessively during the night
- Night terrors
- Tendency to breathe through the mouth
- Hyperactivity or inattentiveness
- Problems in growth and development
- Hostile behavior
- Poor school performance
If sleep apnea is suspected, it is important to have the child examined by a pediatrician. In many cases, once the tonsils or adenoids are removed, symptoms of sleep apnea subside.
Causes of Sleep Apnea
There are two types of sleep apnea, obstructive and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles of the throat relax. Central sleep apnea occurs when the muscles responsible for breathing do not function well due to lack of proper signals from the brain. A combination of both types is known as complex sleep apnea.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea : The muscles of the throat support the soft palate, uvula, tonsils and tongue. When these muscles relax, you experience a narrowing of the airways as you breathe. This leads to brief pauses in breathing, which can reduce the oxygen levels in the blood. You tend to awaken when this happens because the brain detects this inability to breathe and urges you to wake up so that your airways can reopen. In most cases, you are not likely to remember waking up because it occurs very briefly. When you awake, you may emit a choking sound due to breathlessness. This entire pattern may repeat itself several times during the night. As a result when you finally wake up in the morning, you may feel tired.
- Central Sleep Apnea: This type of sleep apnea is less common. It occurs when the brain does not communicate properly with the muscles involved in breathing. If you have central sleep apnea, you may find it difficult to stay asleep. Individuals with heart disease tend to suffer from this problem. Daytime sleepiness and irritability are likely to occur as well. Most people with this type of sleep apnea are able to remember waking up during the night.
- Complex Sleep Apnea: This may be caused by obstructions in the airways, like in obstructive sleep apnea. Disturbances in the breathing rhythm and lapses in breathing function may also be involved.
There are some risk factors involved in the occurrence of sleep apnea such as:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Enlarged tongue or tonsils
- Obstruction in the nasal passage
- Male gender
- Family history of the condition
Remedies for Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a treatable condition. There are various treatment options available, which help to unblock the airways and relieve breathing difficulties. If you have a milder case of sleep apnea, your doctor is most likely to recommend certain changes in lifestyle. Here are some effective home remedies for sleep apnea:
- Weight Loss: Being overweight can aggravate the symptoms of sleep apnea. Even slight weight loss can significantly improve the symptoms by opening up the airways.
- Stop Smoking: Smoking can lead to accumulation of fluid in the throat and can also cause inflammation in the upper airways.
- Avoid the Intake of Alcohol and Sedatives: These can cause the throat muscles to relax and thus disrupt breathing.
- Avoid Drinking Caffeinated Beverages: Caffeine can interfere with the normal sleep rhythm.
- Avoid Heavy Meals: Eating a heavy meal just before bedtime can prevent you from sleeping properly.
- Stick to a Sleep Schedule: Maintaining a steady sleeping schedule will ensure that you are getting adequate sleep every night. This can help to reduce episodes of sleep apnea.
- The herb, valerian has been used down the age as a natural sleep aid. It is known to enhance sleep quality and also helps you to fall asleep faster. Many people who suffer from sleep apnea experience insomnia due to breathing difficulty and disturbances in the sleep cycle. Valerian helps to ease such sleep disorders.
- Essential oils such as primrose, chamomile and lavender oil also aid in sleep. Primrose oil helps to alleviate inflammation due to allergies. These oils may be used in a diffuser or as compresses. Some oils such as lavender can also be applied directly to the temples for a mild sedative effect.
- Ease congestion in the nasal passage and chest with the help of eucalyptus oil. This will help you to breathe more easily, thereby preventing sleep apnea. Add the oil to boiling water and inhale the steam.
- Home remedies for sleep disorders also include walnuts which are known to enhance breathing. Walnuts may be added to the daily diet. You can also add the seeds to milk and consume before going to bed at night.
- Garlic helps in treating sleep apnea as it helps to relieve enlarged tonsils. It also helps to alleviate inflammation in the respiratory system. This makes it easier to breathe normally. You can chew on a garlic clove before bedtime. You can also make a paste of crushed garlic and warm water and consume before sleeping.
- Indian gooseberry also helps to regulate breathing during sleep. You can steep some pieces in hot water and then bring to a boil. Strain and drink after it cools down. You can also grind the leaves of Indian gooseberry into a powder and consume with some warm water.
- Yoga involves certain breathing exercises which are beneficial in opening up the air passages. With regular practice it is possible to control your breathing and ensure proper passage of air in and out of the body.
Do keep in mind that the effectiveness of many of these home remedies may vary from individual to individual, depending on the efficacy of the remedy itself, and the underlying cause. It is also important that you exercise great caution with the use of herbal remedies like valerian, and do not attempt any such treatment without medical consultation, because of the high risk of interaction with other drugs.
Severe cases of sleep apnea may be treated through continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This involves wearing a mask over the nose or mouth. Through the mask, pressurized air is blown so that the airway stays open. In some cases surgery may be required to remove excess tissue in the throat.
Diet for Sleep Apnea
There is no specific sleep apnea diet. However you can ease breathing disorders by cutting down on foods that are high in cholesterol and saturated fat. Sleep apnea is closely related to obesity and hence a healthy low-fat diet is important. This will help to also lower the risk of health complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes.
Suggestion for Sleep Apnea
Here are some sleep tips to help prevent episodes of sleep apnea.
- Keep your head elevated by raising the top part of your bed or by placing a foam wedge under your upper body. There are also special pillows available for elevating the head.
- When you sleep on your back, the tongue and throat tissues are more likely to drop and block the airway. Therefore make it a practice to sleep on your side.
- To prevent rolling onto the back during sleep, sew a pocket on the back of your shirt and place a tennis ball inside. You can also place tennis balls inside a pillow and wedge it under your back.
- Use a nasal spray to keep the nasal passage clear during the night. A beneficial natural remedy for central sleep apnea is to use a neti pot to drain out your airways.
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