If your partner has told you that you snore during the night, and if you find yourself increasingly tired during the day, often fighting off sleep or falling asleep accidentally, these may be signs that you are suffering from sleep apnea, a condition in which airways are blocked during sleep, which can lead to loud snoring and an overall drop in oxygen levels in the body.
There are several types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your throat muscles relax. Central sleep apnea occurs when your brain doesn’t properly regulate your breathing during sleep. Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of these two.
While snoring in general does not mean that you have the disorder, it is one of the most common symptoms. Accompanied by pauses, choking or gasping, snoring could be one of the signs of a more serious condition.
According to WebMD other symptoms include:
- A dry throat and headaches in the morning
- Concentration problems
- Mood swings, depression, irritability
- Need to use the restroom during the night
If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to these side effects:
- Lack of quality sleep
- Lack of energy
- Increased chance of high blood pressure
- Increased chance of stroke
- Increased chance of heart disease and irregular heart beats
Though sleep apnea can be both inconvenient and a little frightening, it has been linked to death only in rare cases.
The National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute points to several causes:
- Obesity or being overweight: If you’re overweight, extra fat tissue can thicken around the wall of your windpipe, causing an obstruction
- Head and neck shape: Your own physiology can be a factor in your risk.
- Relaxed or enlarged tongue, throat muscles, or tonsils
- Age: Your risk increases with age.
If you suspect that you have sleep apnea. It’s important to see your health care professional, so that you can have the proper testing and diagnosis for the disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, some common tests for sleep apnea include:
- Nocturnal Polysomnography: In this test, several aspects of the patient’s well being is monitored by diagnostic medical equipment.
- Oximetry: This test measures the level of oxygen in a patient’s blood while he or she is sleeping.
- Portable Cardiorespiratory Testing: Your doctor may provide you with at home tests to take for sleep apnea.
There are several lifestyle changes for this condition. The National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute has the following advice. If you have experienced weight gain, you may have noticed it was accompanied by sleep apnea. A simple treatment for this is weight loss. Even small amounts of weight loss can be beneficial. Avoid alcohol and sleep aids, as these can relax the throat while you are sleeping. Sleep on your side instead of your back. Quit smoking! Other treatments include mouthpieces, breathing devices, and surgery.