If you go to sleep at night but wake up in the morning without feeling rested there may be a medical reason that needs attention. Sleep apnea affects about 30 million people in the US, but only around 6 million of those people get a diagnosis and know what they are dealing with.
There are some different options for people with sleep apnea. like losing weight or surgery, that can minimize the issue. But there is no one-size-fits-all cure.
If you can learn to understand the underlying cause of your sleep condition, you may be able to reduce your risk factors. Keep reading to learn more.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep condition that makes it difficult for certain people to get quality sleep due to restricted or completely blocked airways.
Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the airway collapses during sleep, causing the person sleeping to arouse in order to start breathing again. While this response is natural and keeps you alive, it disrupts sleep and can lead to many problems.
What Are the Causes of Sleep Apnea?
There are many different factors that may trigger sleep apnea, but often they are due to a person’s individual anatomy. A deviated nasal septum may disrupt airflow, especially for those lying flat on their backs. Enlarged turbinates in the nose may do the same thing. As could a floppy soft palate, big tonsils, adenoids, or a large tongue that could block air passage at the throat.
Chronic snoring can be a symptom of or a factor that leads to sleep apnea. This is because snoring leads to vibrations that can damage the airway. This can contribute to swelling, and may make the airway more narrow. Over time, nerve receptors may become less responsive and the muscles may not be able to stay toned enough to support the airway.
Weight gain can also trigger sleep apnea. People who gain weight in the neck are especially at risk for sleep apnea.
Sleeping flat on your back can also be a cause of sleep apnea. This position allows your tongue and the rest of the tissues in your mouth and throat to fall back into the airway and block it.
The use of alcohol is also a leading factor. Especially the consumption of alcohol within a few hours before bed.
These things typically trigger sleep apnea in people due to structural changes in airway anatomy. These changes lead to a chronic condition that can reduce the amount of quality sleep you get, and it is only natural to want to cure the condition. But oftentimes after these structural changes take place, treatment can help but may not be a full cure.
Sleep Apnea Caused by Weight
Obesity in America is rising and so is the rate of sleep apnea among adults. Obesity is the primary risk factor for sleep apnea, and losing some weight can help reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea.
Research has found that when obese people lose weight even their tongue size decreases. This reduces the amount of tissue that can block the airway at night. But people without excess weight can and do still develop sleep apnea.
What Are the Risks of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea left untreated can lead to very serious and potentially life-threatening conditions. Cardia conditions, diabetes, and high blood pressure are some of the most common issues experienced by those who live with it.
As a result, sleep apnea can significantly shorten someone’s life expectancy. There are around 38,000 people who die in the US every year due to sleep apnea-related heart disease alone.
Age is another risk factor when it comes to sleep apnea. Older people generally experience higher rates of sleep apnea. Menopause is also a risk factor that can’t be changed. Females experience higher risks of sleep apnea during the onset of menopause.
How to Reduce Sleep Apnea Risk Factors
The treatment plan you develop to minimize your risk of sleep apnea should be dependent on your individual risk factors and the severity of sleep apnea. It is highly advised that you work with your doctor to put in place a plan that works best for you. Something to consider, if you have allergies and nasal blockages, then allergy treatment may be a better option for you.
For milder cases, your doctor may suggest starting with only lifestyle changes. Changing your daily habits and routine to be more conducive to a healthy night’s sleep. Losing weight, refraining from smoking, and getting regular exercise during the day are all changes that have shown positive results.
Breathing exercises may be able to help improve your breathing by increasing the muscle tone in the airway. Some studies even report the positive effects of circular breathing techniques used by people who play the didgeridoo. And similarly, positive outcomes have been observed with myofunctional therapy. This is a treatment option that involes specific exercises that target the facial muscles used for chewing and swallowing. They are meant to strengthen the tongue. However, this therapy needs more research before it is fully understood and supported.
Raising the head of the bed up to 45 degrees has also proved to be helpful for some people. Or simply sleeping on their side may also make a big difference.
There are no medications directly for treating sleep apnea, but there are medications that treat things like allergies, which can trigger sleep apnea, or make it worse.
Nasal steroids that keep the nasal passages open can be helpful for some people. Nasonex, Flonase, and Rhinocort are popular allergy medications used for people dealing with sleep apnea and allergies.
As sleep apnea can also be a symptom of other medical conditions, treatment for associated medical problems can prove to be very effective. People with medical conditions like heart or neuromuscular disorders are at risk for sleep apnea and treating these conditions can help to alleviate problems.
The most widely used and successful way to minimize the risk of sleep apnea is to use a CPAP machine. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. A CPAP mask is fitted tightly to the face and it pushes air down the throat keeping airways open.
This constant flow of air prevents the collapse of the airway throughout the night. It only works when it is used and can be very uncomfortable, discouraging some from regularly sleeping with it ton. But if it is used it can be very effective.
This treatment is recommended for people who deal with moderate to severe sleep apnea. There are different mask options and other ways to make wearing the mask to sleep more comfortable. So if you are trying this method and feel like giving up, speak with your doctor to see what kind of adjustments you can make to increase your comfort.
Some people try supplemental oxygen while they sleep. Others use adaptive servo-ventilation. This is a recently approved airflow device that learns your normal breathing patterns and stores the data in a computer. After you fall asleep, the machine uses pressure to prevent you from pausing when you breathe.
Oral appliances may also be used to adjust the airways at night. They are more comfortable than the CPAP machine but generally less effective. However, they may be a good backup option for those who are unable to sleep with a CPAP machine.
Oral appliances can usually be provided by your dentist. They are designed to move the jaw forward and reposition it in a way that keeps airways open. This can help people with mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea. It may also help to relieve snoring.
You may need to try a number of devices before finding one that works for you.
If these types of measures don’t offer enough help, then there are some other options available, like surgery.
Surgery is usually only an option for those who have tried other methods like the ones listed above and have not had success. Most doctors recommend a three-month-long trial period of other options before exploring surgery.
If other treatment methods fail to produce positive, results then your doctor may suggest operations like tissue removal, or tissue shrinkage. Tissue can be removed from the back of the mouth and the top of the throat. Tonsils and adenoids are usually removed as well. However, tissue removal is less effective than CPAP.
Jaw repositioning is a procedure that moves the jaw forward and enlarges the space behind the tongue making obstruction less likely. As many as 80% of people who undergo this surgery experience resolved sleep apnea. As simple as it sounds, it is major surgery. It usually involves titanium screws and plates that fix the jawbone in place. It changes the facial profile in the process.
There are other surgical options out there, but they are not as effective procedures. The most commonly used alternative procedures include:
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (surgery on the soft palate)
- Septoplasty (repairs deviated septums)
- Radiofrequency ablation (to relieve nasal congestion and obstruction)
- Tongue surgery (movement of the tongue anchors)
More research is needed about many of the surgical options for treating sleep apnea. Certain operations may reduce things like snoring or help with some symptoms of your sleep disorder, but it is unclear how effective they are in specially treating sleep apnea.
Get a Professional Sleep Assessment
It may be wise to consult with a sleep specialist who can properly diagnose sleep apnea.
They are trained in assessing and diagnosing sleep-related disorders. Your primary care doctor can refer you to one or help you find one. They will be able to help you learn more about your sleep condition and learn about the best ways to manage it. It is important find a sustainable treatment plan for you that works long-term.
You may need to have an evaluation that involves an overnight stay. Sleep specialists monitor patients at a sleep center where they can track breathing, and other bodily functions during sleep.
Some of the tests used to identify sleep apnea include nocturnal polysomnography and home sleep tests.
Nocturnal polysomnography is a test that monitors the heart, lungs, brain, breathing patterns, arm movements, leg movements, and blood oxygen levels while you sleep. And home sleep tests usually are outlined by your doctor to be taken home with you and completed. They usually only involve monitoring heart rate, blood oxygen levels, airflow, and breathing patterns.
If your results turn out abnormal, your doctor may be able to suggest a therapy without needing further information. But portable monitoring devices used for at-home tests don’t detect all cases of sleep apnea. So your doctor still may recommend additional testing, like following up with a polysomnography test, even if your initial results are what you hoped for.
Your doctor could also refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist. They may want to check these areas of the body to rule out any blockages in your nose or throat. And a cardiologist or a neurologist may be recommended to take a look at your heart or nervous system to see if there may be a cause for central sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea In Children
Since sleep apnea is a condition that is attributed to physical anatomy it usually cannot be cured, only managed. But children who suffer from sleep apnea may be able to successfully treat their sleep apnea and essentially cure it altogether.
The options for children with sleep apnea include getting tonsils and adenoids removed. There are some other surgery options available, too. The most successful is jaw advancement surgery. This is a procedure that moves the jaw placement to help keep airways open.
Many people are plagued with sleep apnea. Early intervention for children with this sleep condition can help eliminate the chances of it occurring in adulthood, but this usually requires surgical treatment. For adults, there are also surgical options, but it is harder to change the anatomy of the airway in adults whose bodies are done growing.
Medications, surgery, and CPAP treatment are all options for reducing the risk factors of sleep apnea and are the most successful ways to treat the condition. There are also a number of lifestyle changes that can make a difference. Losing weight, and switching up your sleeping position are two great places to start.
To help with your sleep, you may also want to give CBD a try to see if helps your symptoms before considering more serious and costly options like surgery. CBD has been shown to help many people with sleeping better. To learn more about CBD options for sleep, check out our Buyers Guide.