Sleep apnea is a problem for approximately 18 million Americans. While many people just believe they snore sometimes and it isn’t a big deal, many others suffer from nightly bouts of sleep apnea.
An apnea is a temporary pause in breathing that is caused by the tissue in the back of the throat collapsing. “The muscles of the upper airway relax when you fall asleep. If you sleep on your back, gravity can cause the tongue to fall back. This narrows the airway, which reduces the amount of air that can reach your lungs. The narrowed airway causes snoring by making the tissue in the back of the throat vibrate as you breathe.”
There are 3 types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form and it occurs when the throat muscles relax. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. And the third type, complex sleep apnea syndrome, occurs when someone has both of the previously mentioned types.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of sleep apnea are very broad. It can begin with sleep disruptions, dry mouth, and a sore throat and escalate into depression, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. Some of these symptoms can lead to other risk factors such as diabetes, stroke, and heart attack.
Luckily there are some things you can do to help decrease risk factors and reduce sleep apnea.
One of the major risk factors for sleep apnea is obesity. Losing weight is the number one way to reduce risk factors. Increasing exercise and physical activity can be a benefit to many aspects of sleep health. Not only can it help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, but it can also help you get a better night’s rest. Also decreasing or quitting smoking is a benefit to your sleep health. Avoid such things as alcohol and sleeping pills because they relax the muscles in the throat which can interfere with breathing.
Some researchers suggest the following tips for preventing sleep apnea.
1. Prop your head up. Sleeping with your head up or elevating the body from the waist up can keep the throat open properly.
2. Sleep on your side. This makes it more likely for the tongue to obstruct your airway.
3. Tighten the muscles that keep your mouth closed. Scientists suggest chewing gum or holding a pen between your teeth for about 10 minutes before bedtime to strengthen and tighten the muscles.
4. Open your nasal passages. Keep your nasal passages open and clear by using a neti pot, breathing strips or saline spray.
The best suggestion is always seeking the help of your doctor. If you or your partner seem to be snoring most evenings, you feel yourself wake up multiple times per night or you feel fatigued on a daily basis, you should be evaluated by a doctor for sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.
… sleep happily ever after …