Sleep Apnea, a sleep disorder, is marked by the inability to breathe normally during sleep. If unchecked, it can repeatedly stop your breathing while you sleep. One way to think of it is that your body is experiencing frequent, yet small, episodes of suffocation. This makes the brain and body devoid of oxygen.
The pauses in breathing may be anywhere between few seconds to a few minutes. These disruptions may frequently occur throughout the night.
You could also hear loud snoring accompanied by choking or snorting sound – as the breathing resumes after pauses.
What typically happens during Sleep Apnea?
When the breath is paused during an episode of sleep Apnea, carbon dioxide builds up in the bloodstream. Chemoreceptors in blood stream note the high carbon dioxide presence. The brain is then signaled to wake up the sleeping person to breathe fresh air.
Once the body is breathing regularly, it falls back to a ‘normal’ mode, and the person will fall asleep again.
However, this mechanism will not be effective with increasing severity. The average person breathes rhythmically and without obstruction in nasal or throat airways. But in the condition of Sleep Apnea, healthy sleep is disrupted due to blockage of airflow while breathing. This blockage most commonly results from weight or obesity that causes an increase in soft tissue in the mouth and throat.
Sometimes, the blockage can lead to cardiac arrest.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are two main types of sleep apnea – obstructive sleep apnea, and central sleep apnea.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the more common one, is caused by blockage of the airway in the back of the throat.
- Central Sleep Apnea happens when the brain is unable to send messages to the muscles that tell them to breathe.
Can it Happen to You?
People who are overweight or have a family history of Sleep Apnea or those having allergies, a small airways or tonsils are most prone to this condition. Many times, the person suffering from Sleep Apnea himself does not know his condition.
In many cases, it is first observed by the family members of the affected person. Severe Sleep Apnea cases can cause health problems like high B.P., Stroke, Heart attack, Heart failure, and diabetes.
Why do You Need to Treat It?
Untreated Sleep Apnea cases can cause existing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to worsen and cause depression. Some develop irregular heart rhythms. Here are some of the other symptoms.
- Intense fatigue due to lack of sleep.
- Feeling of tiredness and sleepiness during the day
- Vision problems
- Liver function impairment
Most of these effects are due to lack of oxygen supply to the body due to breath impairment. In severe cases, it may lead to depression due to disruption in the daytime cognitive state.
Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea
Diagnosis of the condition is made with an overnight sleep study. For a diagnosis, more than five episodes an hour must occur
Treatment of Sleep Apnea includes medical intervention as well as lifestyle changes. However, the most common treatment is various forms of continuous positive airway pressure.
– Medical intervention may be surgical but usually comes in the shape of mouthpieces, masks, and breathing devices.
– CPAP machines are the most common type of breathing device that allows the Sleep Apnea patients to breathe normally. These devices are usually attached to a partial or full face mask. Newly diagnosed patients will appreciate this comprehensive CPAP guide.
– Lifestyle changes may include abstaining from alcohol intake, losing weight, stopping smoking and sleeping on one’s side and not sleeping on one’s back.
– Many Yoga asanas including Kapalbhati, anulom vilom, Bhrambri, and Bhastrika are said to be helpful. These asanas are meant to strengthen the diaphragm, opens the airways and increase the oxygen intake.
The Other Things to Do
In addition to lifestyle changes, some diet changes are also suggested to prevent and cure this condition like avoiding meat and fried food in dinner. Taking early dinner or having a two-hour gap after dinner and sleep time is also a good habit. Don’t sleep on an empty stomach though.