Sleep apnea may be to blame, but it can be treated.
If you find yourself tossing and turning, waking up in a fog on a regular basis or snoring, sleep apnea may be to blame. When you suffer from sleep apnea, breathing is disrupted while you sleep, which can cause sleepiness and drowsiness, or even lead to serious, long-term risks for diseases. Sleep apnea is actually fairly common, and it often affects people when they don’t even realize it.
Many people have sleep apnea, but they don’t know it.
Sleep apnea is more common than most people think, because it often goes undiagnosed for long periods of time, explains Dr. Akash Anand, Ear Nose and Throat Physician and Founder of GNO Snoring & Sinus. The most common form, known as obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when a person’s airway is blocked or constricted during sleep. According to studies, obstructive sleep apnea affects 9 percent of women and 24 percent of men, Dr. Anand says. However, he cautions that the percentages may be even higher, as those figures are based on previous studies when obesity rates were lower, and sleep apnea has been linked to obesity. Of those people suffering and experiencing disrupted sleep, as many as 80 percent go undiagnosed.
Overweight men are not the only people who snore.
The stereotypical sleep apnea patient is an overweight or obese man who snores violently. Although obesity is a major risk factor, and sleep apnea more often affects men, as people get older, sleep apnea becomes more of an equal issue among men and women. “After menopause, women are just as likely to experience sleep apnea as men,” Dr. Anand says.
Sleep apnea can manifest itself as depression, fatigue or something else.
Sleep apnea symptoms are so broad, that they are easily confused with more common illnesses — so the condition is often overlooked. People suffering from sleep apnea have issues beyond sleep disruption; they can suffer from depression, drowsiness, trouble concentrating, and physical symptoms like dry mouth and a sore throat. “Patients who have been diagnosed with depression will come in to our clinic, but we can tell there’s more there,” Dr. Anand says. “They tend to be unresponsive to depression treatments, but, once we diagnose them with sleep apnea and begin to treat it, their depression levels improve.”
Sleep apnea may lead to serious illness.
Sleep is vital to your overall health, and, when it is disrupted, it can affect more than just your mood or your productivity. Over time, sleep apnea can become a risk factor for serious conditions like heart attack, stroke and diabetes. If you notice the symptoms, or your spouse or partner has noticed that you periodically stop breathing during the night, speak to your physician about taking part in an overnight sleep study. Observing your sleep patterns is the only way to accurately diagnose sleep apnea and to rule out other possible conditions.
Sleep apnea can be treated.
Fortunately, there are ways to deal with, manage and even overcome sleep apnea. The first step is diagnosing the specific region of your airway that becomes obstructed at night. In doing so, patients can undergo targeted treatment of the obstructed segment. Some treatment can be as simple as not sleeping on your back, Dr. Anand says, and, since obesity is a risk factor, any treatment approach should include a plan for weight loss. However, such changes are not the solution for everyone, so CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure therapy is a popular and effective treatment. CPAP involves wearing a mask that promotes airflow and prevents airway obstruction during sleep. Unfortunately, about 40 to 60 percent of patients cannot tolerate CPAP, and, in these cases, oral appliances or surgery become realistic options. Regardless of the therapy prescribed, it is important for patients and doctors to have an accurate understanding of exactly where the airway is obstructing during sleep. “If you know exactly where the problem is, then you know exactly where to begin treatment,” Dr. Anand says.