Less Snoring, More Sleep: Addressing Sleep Apnea
Jun 28, 2017 02:00PM ● Published by Caley Breese
Sleep plays a crucial role in our wellbeing. As an adult, it’s challenging enough to meet the standard eight-hours-of-sleep-per-night rule with the busy lives we lead. If you suffer from sleep apnea, you’re adding in the frustration of interrupted sleep, which makes being properly rested even more difficult.
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder in which one experiences shallow breathing or paused breathing that can last from a few seconds to even several minutes. We’ve reached out to local sleep experts on this condition to learn about the symptoms, treatments, and what is vital to know about this sometimes-exhausting condition.
Basics of Sleep Apnea
First, let’s talk basics. There are two types of sleep apnea: central and obstructive. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain doesn’t properly signal the muscles that control breathing. This type is more rare, and can often be associated with an underlying illness or disease. Obstructive sleep apnea, also identified as OSA, is more common of the two, and it occurs when the muscles of your airway relax while sleeping, causing the airway to either collapse or partially collapse, which is when the shallow breathing or paused breathing occurs.
Sleep apnea tends to be more prevalent in individuals who are obese; however, there are patients who have sleep apnea that are not obese or overweight. Being diagnosed with sleep apnea could also have something to do with genetics.
“If you have a family history of sleep apnea, you are at an increased risk to have sleep apnea yourself,” Dr. Jacques Conaway, Director of Sleep Medicine at the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center, explains. “Some physical characteristics that you may inherit predispose you to sleep apnea, such as obesity and airway anatomy.”
Furthermore, while anyone can be diagnosed with sleep apnea, men are more commonly susceptible to it than women are. However, that number may be changing due to new research.
Dr. Sam Pollina of Annapolis Snoring and Sleep Apnea Center explains: “OSA has traditionally and erroneously been seen as a ‘men’s disorder;’ however, new studies indicate the frequency of sleep apnea among women may be higher than previously believed.”
Symptoms & Diagnosis
Sleep apnea has the ability to affect both adults and children. In adults, symptoms include: loud snoring, irritability the next day, daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat, and waking during the night to urinate. Another cautionary telltale symptom that may be witnessed by a sleeping partner is episodes of breaks in breathing or pauses throughout the night. In children, some of the symptoms of sleep apnea are hyperactivity due to sleep deprivation, angry or hostile behavior, and bed-wetting.
“The need to nap, nodding off during the day, and excessive caffeine use are also common symptoms. We also know there is a strong correlation between OSA and many other cardiovascular diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and stroke,” explains Adil Degani, M.D., a Board Certified Sleep Specialist at Annapolis Asthma, Pulmonary and Sleep Specialists.
The most common way to diagnose an individual with sleep apnea is with an overnight sleep study, known as a polysomnogram (or PSG), which is conducted in an observed lab.
“These studies monitor respiratory patterns, brain waves, muscle tone, and EKG. In recent years, home sleep testing (HST) has become more common to diagnose adult patients with OSA,” Degani describes. “HST is not approved for children or for any sleep diagnosis other than OSA.”
While the overnight PSG is the most routine diagnosis for sleep apnea, it’s important to speak with your doctor about your symptoms and concerns in order to find the most appropriate test for you.
Surely you’ve heard of a CPAP device (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) as the primary treatment option for sleep apnea—it remains the most prescribed treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. However, there are other potential treatments for sleep apnea, including weight loss if it is applicable to the patient.
“Medical and surgical studies have demonstrated that as little as a 10 percent weight reduction is associated with a more than 50 percent reduction in the severity of OSA,” Dr. Pollina explains.
Maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle is, of course, important in general; when diagnosed with sleep apnea, however, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine really improve one’s day-to-day well-being.
“First line of therapy for OSA is significant weight loss. In patients who are severely overweight, getting down to a normal weight can be curative,” explains Degani.
Of course, not all patients with sleep apnea are overweight or need to lose weight. In this case, the best treatment option would be the CPAP device; in other cases treatments include, surgery to the facial bones, surgery to remove tissues from the back of the throat in order to widen the airway, or the use of an oral appliance (much like a mouth guard) that supports the jaw and brings it to a forward position to help open the airway.
If you are among the chronically tired, there is help and hope. See a qualified physician to diagnose and determine how severe your OSA is and which treatment option will work best for you.