Sleep Apnea has been derived from the Greek word ‘apnea’ which means without breath. A common sleep disorder, adults and children both get affected by sleep apnea. According to the National Institute of Health, twelve million Americans suffer from sleep apnea.
Although sleep apnea can affect people of all ages and genders, it has been noted that people over the age of forty and those who are overweight are most likely to suffer from this sleep disorder.
What is Sleep Apnea?
A chronic sleep disorder problem, people with sleep apnea may have abnormally shallow breathing or may suddenly stop breathing while they sleep. Typically the symptoms of sleep apnea last for only a few seconds but happen about five to thirty times every hour every night. Chronic sleep apnea often progresses to chronic insomnia.
Ignorance and improper diagnosis means that most people who have apnea suffer from this condition for years or even their whole lifetime without getting proper treatment. In fact there are surgical and non surgical methods to treat sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea which is not treated properly can give rise to other health conditions including impotency, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and weight gain. Sleep apnea can affect the quality of a person’s life, because people with this disorder are unable to concentrate and are likely to make more mistakes than an individual who does not have this condition.
Sleep Apnea Causes
There are many factors which cause the chronic sleep disorder called sleep apnea. Respiratory problems, infections, diabetes are some of the common causes of sleep apnea. In many cases small lifestyle changes can bring great relief from the problem of sleep apnea. Let us examine in details some of the common causes of sleep apnea.
Obesity is one the major determining factors of sleep apnea. It has been noted that obese individuals are twice as likely to suffer from this specific sleep disorder as compared to individuals who maintain proper body weight. Obesity causes sleep apnea in two ways. When people become overweight, there is a general deposition of excess fat throughout the body including the air passage. This excess fat which accumulates around the air passage can cause the airway to narrow. This in turn leads to sleep apnea.
Excess weight means excess pressure around the chest and stomach which can also interfere with the normal breathing pattern. This problem particularly worsens at night leading to sleep apnea. People, who gain weights suddenly, say in a matter of six to eight months, are more likely to suffer from this condition. A person suffering from sleep apnea finds great relief from this problem when he is able to shed the excess pounds and reach a healthy body weight.
Lack of Oxygen
When a person sleeps, his / her breathing pattern automatically becomes shallow which leads to reduced flow of oxygen into the lungs. The soft tissue which line the airways also become relaxed which causes them to collapse and obstruct the air passage way. This in turn causes sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea may stop breathing completely for periods ranging from five to ten seconds and often wake up gasping for breath.
Sleep apnea increases the chances of developing diabetes and people with diabetes are twice a likely to suffer from sleep apnea as compared to people who do not have diabetes. People with uncontrolled diabetes may suffer from a severe version of sleep apnea.
Increased levels of blood glucose can cause an increase in the feeling of general tiredness which in turn can affect the respiratory and muscular systems and subsequently the amount of oxygen flowing into the body. Today researchers have discovered a definite link between the type2 diabetes and sleep apnea.
During respiratory infections particularly infections of the upper respiratory tract people may develop the problem of apnea. Some of the upper respiratory tract infections which can cause sleep apnea include allergic rhinitis and common colds. These respiratory tract infections can lead to a type of apnea called obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea caused by respiratory tract infections mostly disappear after the respiratory tract infection clears. People having sinus infections may also suffer from this particular sleep disorder.
Ageing and Loss of Muscle Tone
As part of the ageing process the muscle tone of the body becomes lax. The muscle of the upper airways, particularly around the throat loses its tone and begins to sag. As a result it slowly begins to collapse into the airway leading to obstruction in the flow of oxygen and ultimately to apnea. Other than surgery, there is no other possible way to treat apnea that comes with advancing age. Sleep apnea is one of the main reasons why aged people suffer from disturbed sleep.
Medicines and Sleep Apnea
Certain types of medications can lead to sleep apnea. People who take sleeping pills often complain of sleep apnea. This could be because of the relaxing effect of sleeping pills which causes the muscles and the soft tissue lining the airways to sag and obstruct the normal flow of oxygen into the lungs. People who suffer from sleep apnea because of taking sleeping pills should discontinue taking the pills. Instead they should try alternate and natural ways to get good nights sleep. Another medication which is often linked to sleep apnea is benzodiazepines.
Sometimes the position that you adopt while sleeping can also increase your chances of suffering from sleep apnea. People who sleep on their back are twice as likely to suffer from sleep apnea as compared to people who sleeps on their side.
The reason for this is because the muscles tend to sag and obstruct the airways when a person sleeps on his back. Hence a person who is inclined to suffer from sleep apnea is asked to sleep on his side to get good nights rest. Some people who dream heavily during their sleep also suffer from sleep apnea.
Smoking and Alcohol Consumption
People who smoke or drink alcohol have higher chances of suffering from sleep apnea. Smoking leads to cardiovascular and respiratory problems which lead to sleep apnea. People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol suffer from this sleep disorder because alcohol has the habit of relaxing the throat muscles which in turn exerting undue force on the airways.