What is Sleep Apnea: A Closer Look at Its Symptoms — and Treatments

Imagine for a minute, you are a sci-fi icon, known worldwide for your portrayal of Princess Leia in one of the biggest movie franchises … ever.

Imagine you are a renowned football player, twice named NFL defensive player of the year and nicknamed the Minister of Defense, playing on such great teams as the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers.

Imagine you are the lead vocalist and guitarist of one of the most famous bands in the world, a band that literally ushered in a new era of music and counterculture …

What do these three people have in common? Wealth, fame … and the sleep apnea that was a contributor to the heart attacks that killed them.

It’s estimated that between 18-22% of all Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, and up to 80% of those cases are undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea.  The National Sleep Foundation states:

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. The “apnea” in sleep apnea refers to a breathing pause that lasts at least ten seconds. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, despite efforts to breathe.

Obstructive sleep apnea has many risk factor. Sleep apnea, can cause fragmented sleep and low blood oxygen levels. For people with sleep apnea, the combination of disturbed sleep and oxygen starvation may lead to hypertension, heart disease and mood and memory problems. Sleep apnea also increases the risk of drowsy driving.

 

What is sleep apnea?

While definitely not limited to it, obesity and our ever-expanding waistlines contribute to the prevalence and severity of obstructive sleep apnea. Namely, the heavier we get the harder it is to keep our airways open.

Soft tissue in the back of the throat relaxes during sleep, allowing the tongue to fall back and the airway to collapse. Once blocked, the patient attempts to continue breathing, the chest rises and falls, the belly starts to pump. The patient’s oxygen levels start to decline, causing the heart to increase pumping. The patient’s body is now in full panic mode. The brain is being deprived of oxygen, the pulse is increasing, the chest is pumping hard and trying to get air to the lungs …. and the body has a nocturnal arousal. Adrenalin, made of cortisol, a known cause of added belly weight, is dumped from the adrenal glands and the brain is shocked into waking up. All this takes place in seconds and can happen to sleep apnea sufferers hundreds of times a night!

The Good News….

There is light at the end of the tunnel. All isn’t lost for sleep apnea patients.

And regardless of the reason for the obstructive events, weight-related or not, CPAP can provide relief. CPAP is continuous positive airway pressure, a simple yet effective way of splinting the airways open to ensure the airways remain patent.  

Everyone knows someone with CPAP and we have all heard CPAP is uncomfortable: “It gives me dry mouth, it makes me claustrophobic.”

The good news is with today’s modern CPAP machines, all these issues can be easily resolved.

The single most important component of wearing CPAP is finding a mask that works for you! Hundreds of CPAP masks exist in the medical equipment world, made of everything from gel to cloth and in most any shape and design imaginable. There is something for even the most sensitive user, toddlers and adults.

While there is no bringing back the greats like Carrie Fisher, Reggie White or Jerry Garcia, we can learn from their untimely deaths.  We can help our bodies prevent issues such as insulin resistance, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and heart attack …. simply by helping ourselves breathe.

Stay healthy, readers, and wait for next month’s installment on why my partner ran away from our bedroom … and other train wrecks.

August 1, 2018 51

A. Giudice

A Sleep Professional with over 20 years of industry experience, a healthy respect for research and a slightly sarcastic writing style.