Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition in which a person repeatedly stops breathing while asleep. Such a disruption in breathing may wake a person abruptly, or so barely that he or she won’t remember waking at all. Regardless, sleep apnea can be detrimental to quality of sleep, as well as contribute to other health problems. It can also be very disruptive to a person’s partner, causing him or her to lose sleep as well.
Sleep apnea is common, and even more so in people who are male, over 40 years old, and overweight. It can however, be an issue for anyone, even children. Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
• fatigue even after a long enough night’s sleep
• pronounced snoring
• waking suddenly and experiencing trouble catching breath
• waking with a snort, cough, or gasp
• frequent morning headaches
Most cases of sleep apnea are triggered when the muscles in the back of the throat relax, causing the airway to close briefly as a person breathes in. The decrease in a person’s blood oxygen level that accompanies such a scenario causes an increase in blood pressure and makes the heart work harder. Sleep apnea puts a person at higher risk for high blood pressure and heart attack. Sleep apnea is often diagnosed after overnight monitoring and evaluation at a medical sleep center.
Treating sleep apnea is important not only to keep blood pressure at a healthy level and protect the heart, but also to protect against side effects of sleep deprivation such as weight gain, compromised academic or job performance, and an increased risk of automobile accidents. There are several treatment options, depending on the severity of the condition. They include:
• Losing weight
• Stopping smoking
• Sleeping on the side or stomach instead of on the back
• Using a machine/mask while sleeping to keep the airway open
• Using a dental appliance while sleeping to keep the airway open
St. Petersburg General Hospital hosts AWAKE, a support group for sleep apnea patients and their families. The next meeting is Tuesday, June 28, and we encourage you to join us! To learn more and to register, please visit us online or call 1-888-741-5122.