Sleep Apnea – what it is and how can we cure it?
Sleep is essential for us to recharge, so much so that any kind of sleep disorder can take us off our daily schedule! One such sleep disorder is sleep apnea. It is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, you might be suffering from sleep apnea.
The main types of sleep apnea are:
- Obstructive sleep apnea, the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax.
- Central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
There are medical tests one can take to detect if they have this disorder. However, the following symptoms can be a cue that you could be suffering from sleep apnea:
- Loud snoring
- Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — which would be reported by another person
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Awakening with a dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
- Difficulty paying attention while awake
- Excess weight: Obesity greatly increases the risk of sleep apnea. Fat deposits around your upper airway can obstruct your breathing.
- Neck circumference: People with thicker necks might have narrower airways.
- Narrow throat: You might have inherited a narrow throat. Tonsils or adenoids also can enlarge and block the airway, particularly in children.
- Being a male: Men are two to three times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than women. However, women increase their risk if they’re overweight, and their risk also appears to rise after menopause.
- Age: Sleep apnea occurs significantly more often in older adults.
- Family history: Having family members with sleep apnea might increase your risk.
- Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilisers: These substances relax the muscles in your throat, which can worsen obstructive sleep apnea.
- Smoking: Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than are people who’ve never smoked. Smoking can increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.
- Nasal congestion: If you have difficulty breathing through your nose — whether from an anatomical problem or allergies — you’re more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.
- Elimination and Reduction: It is quite clear from the above information that if you are a smoker, then consider quitting and reducing consumption of alcohol. Alcohol relaxes the throat muscles that control your breathing. This can lead to snoring and an interrupted sleep cycle. It can also lead to inflammation in your airways, blocking your airflow.
Similar to alcohol, tobacco use can also contribute to inflammation and swelling in your airways. This can worsen your snoring and your sleep apnea.
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight: One reason that weight gain increases your risk of sleep apnea so much is that it makes it more likely that you’re essentially gaining weight on the inside of your neck, which affects your throat muscles and breathing capabilities.
If you’re overweight or obese, a reasonable goal to aim for is losing about 10 percent of your body weight. This amount has been shown to help reduce symptoms because it can help prevent your airways from collapsing while you sleep and reduce inflammation around the throat muscles.
- Eat a high-fiber diet: Aim for at least 25–30 grams daily.
- Utilise adaptogen herbs: Adaptogen herbs like ashwagandha can help control health conditions that can make it hard to lose weight (like high amounts of stress, thyroid issues, leaky gut, adrenal fatigue, cellular toxicity, and candida).
- Get regular exercise: Exercise is a prescription for good sleep. It helps regulate hormones, adds muscle mass, burns calories, and can break up nasal congestion. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, such as a brisk walk, most days of the week.
- Treat acid reflux, congestion, and cough: Congestion can block the nasal passage and create difficulty in breathing. Acid reflux can let the acid making its way to the voice box and throat that causes irritation and swelling around some throat muscles. Cough also irritates the upper airways. All of these are reversible with the right diet and lifestyle choices. Reduce exposure to allergies and raise your head while sleeping to lower acid reflux.
- Adjust sleep position: It’s also a good idea to avoid sleeping on your back, which has been shown to make snoring and symptoms worse because it presses your tongue and palate tissue against the back of your throat.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, sleeping on your side using a pillow that keeps your head slightly raised is usually the best sleep position to alleviate sleep apnea symptoms. A second option is to sleep on your stomach as opposed to your back.
- Other remedies: Using oral appliances (there are quite a few options here) that helps one breathe better and adding a humidifier in the room to add moisture since dry air irritates the respiratory system can be other additions to cure this disorder.
There is no way we can ignore sleep disorders. It impacts our life adversely leading to chronic diseases! It can also be a wake-up call to change our lifestyle, which will enhance other areas of our lives too.