Sleep apnea is a common yet serious condition. In fact, 1 out of 5 adults have at least a mild form of sleep apnea. But what is it exactly? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person’s breathing starts and stops repeatedly while they’re asleep.
There are two types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): This is when the weight of your chest and neck blocks your airway off and on while you sleep. It’s the most common type of sleep apnea.
- Central sleep apnea (CSA): This type of sleep apnea happens when your brain doesn’t send regular signals to help you breathe while you’re asleep.
Who’s at Risk for Sleep Apnea?
Risk factors for sleep apnea include:
- A family history of sleep apnea
- An unhealthy weight
- Drinking alcohol
- A thick neck
- Age (risk increases with age)
- Gender (men have a greater risk than women)
Certain medical conditions like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart failure can also increase your risk. For example, about half of all patients with heart failure have either CSA or OSA. Ask your doctor if you might be at risk for sleep apnea..
What Are the Symptoms?
Snoring is something many of us shrug off as “annoying,” but did you know it’s also a symptom of sleep apnea? It’s true. Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but many of those who have sleep apnea do snore. Here are some other symptoms to look out for:
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Feeling tired during the day
- Decreased attention
- Waking up with a dry mouth or headache
- Needing to urinate in the night
- Reduced sex drive
- Depression and anxiety (more common in women)
- Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep (more common in women)
How Is It Diagnosed?
To figure out if you have sleep apnea, your doctor may look at your medical history and do a physical exam. They may also do a sleep study, which can be done at a special center or at home. During the sleep study, your breathing and oxygen levels are monitored. The number of times your breathing stops or slows is noted, too.
The Effects of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can have serious, long-term effects on your health. It increases your risk of:
- Kidney disease
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat)
- Eye disorders
- Type 2 diabetes
- Pregnancy complications
How to Treat Sleep Apnea
The good news is there are a number of ways to treat sleep apnea. The key is to keep an open airway while sleeping. Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following:
- Healthy lifestyle changes: Stop smoking, drink less alcohol (especially before bed), be more active, aim for a healthy weight, and adopt healthy sleep habits.
- CPAP machine: You can wear this breathing device while sleeping.
- Mouthpieces: Wearing custom-fit mouthpieces while you sleep can help open your airway.
- Therapy: Physical therapy can help the muscles in your face and your mouth work properly.
- Surgery: In some more severe cases, surgery can be helpful.