I had my obstructive sleep apnea symptoms wake-up call a couple of years ago. My own snoring woke me up. It was embarrassing. And a bit scary. No one, especially a woman, wants to admit that they sound like Godzilla when they sleep.
So, I ignored it. I vaguely knew about the health complications. But my husband purchased a white noise sound machine and was no longer waking me to tell me to stop snoring. But lately I’ve been trying to improve my health and it’s time to learn more about my loud night monster.
If you experience shallow breathing (hypopnea) or pauses in your breathing (apnea) while you sleep, and make a choking sound or loud snort when you start breathing normally again, you may have sleep apnea. It's one of the most common sleep problems.
Why does this happen when you are asleep and not when you are just lying down? There are muscles that keep your airway stiff when you are awake. Those muscles relax when you are asleep and this narrows your airway.
This can be a problem if your tonsils or tongue are larger than normal, you have a small airway because of the shape of your head and neck, if you are obese, or if a medical condition has impaired your brain’s instructions to your throat muscles.
OSA is the second most common sleep disorder, behind insomnia. It may be affecting 100 million people worldwide. The majority of people who have this condition are never diagnosed. Your upper airway is physically blocked, partially or completely, during sleep. Your breathing system is working hard to open your airway and bring in air. When breathing resumes, you snort, snore, gasp, choke, or twitch.
CSA is far less common than OSA. This occurs when your brain isn’t sending the right signals to the muscles that are in charge of your breathing. It can be caused by sleeping at a high altitude, stroke, congestive heart failure, opioids, brain infection, severe obesity, problems with your nervous system, and some rare medical conditions.
Symptoms include voice change, swallowing problems, shortness of breath, numbness in various body parts.
A combination of both types of sleep apnea, this is slightly more common than CSA. It was identified by researchers at Mayo Clinic in 2006 but the cause has not been identified. It may even be related incorrect settings on the CPAP being used to treat OSA.
Snoring probably won’t kill you by itself, unless your bed partner just can’t stand it and gives you a fatal whack one night.
But it’s taking a bit of your life every night. Each episode of sleep apnea derails your sleep cycle and can last up to a few minutes. This can happen a few hundred times each night. Sleep apnea is one of the leading causes of daytime tiredness.
This combination of poor quality sleep and drops in blood oxygen level cause the release of stress hormones that trigger a myriad of other medical conditions. It also affects how your body uses energy, putting you at risk for diabetes and obesity. You are also likely to perform poorly in your work and have accidents on the road or on the job.
Because it can chronically lower your blood oxygen levels, OSA can damage an otherwise healthy heart. Hypertension is common in people with sleep apnea and is a well-known precursor of heart disease. Other serious cardiovascular problems can result from OSA.
This condition can also cause serious problems during and after surgery because of the effect the anesthesia and painkillers can have on your respiratory system.
Sleep apnea has even been associated with eye problems such as glaucoma.
Talk to your doctor about being screened for sleep apnea if you experience any of the following symptoms:
Women are less likely than men to be tested for and diagnosed with sleep apnea. According to a UCLA-led study conducted in 2013, men with OSA are more likely than women to have the classic symptoms. Women are more likely to experience morning dry mouth or headache, depression, anxiety, or fatigue rather than the obvious signs and they may not be tested for sleep apnea at all. The possibility that such symptoms are being caused by sleep apnea is greater if a woman is obese, post-menopausal, or pregnant.
Keep a sleep diary. Record how you feel during the day. Record the people you live with say about your snoring and other noises. Find out if anyone in your family has ever been diagnosed with sleep apnea. With this information, and a physical exam of your throat, nose, and mouth, your doctor may refer you to a sleep disorder clinic. There, a specialist will help you decide if you need sleep testing.