If you have ever slept with someone who snores, then you might wonder if there is anything more annoying. One that that is more annoying is having someone else reveal that you have been the one keeping others awake, sawing logs for the entire house to hear. Are you really just snoring? Or is your snoring the sign of a bigger problem, like sleep apnea?

What Sleep Apnea Is and Why It Happens

People suffer from sleep apnea due to conditions they cannot control, such as gravity. Lying on your back changes the structure of the soft tissues in your neck and lower throat. Gravity pulls these soft tissues down, narrowing the airway until it cuts off the air supply and interrupts your ability to breathe. People with sleep apnea literally stop breathing, and then jerk awake when their body forces itself to resume normal respiratory function.

Another reason why some people suffer from sleep apnea is due to cardiovascular diseases, such as irregular heartbeats or coronary artery disease. Because the body spends so much time in a state of alertness, it never gets the down time necessary to rejuvenate and rest the heart, arteries, and blood supply.

What Happens During Sleep Apnea

The term sleep apnea literally translates to sleep without breath because those afflicted with the condition stop breathing throughout the night. The brief episodes are just long enough for the body to force itself awake and protectively restart the pattern of breathing once more. This leads to many concerns, including:

  1. Not breathing is unsafe, and could lead to other medical problems and conditions.
  2. Waking up throughout the night prevents your body from getting a full nights rest.
  3. Sleep apnea stresses out your bodys nervous system and leaves you feeling tired.
  4. Waking up denies your bodys major organs enough time to repair and refresh.

The Hidden Dangers of Sleep Apnea

The most obvious risk of suffering from sleep apnea is that it forces you to stop breathing, but other risks present themselves as well, and not just at night. Many people fail to realize that hidden, potentially harmful dangers accompany the type of restless sleep pattern that goes hand in hand with having the condition.

After a night of being jerked awake to restart your breathing, you are bound to suffer from fatigue the following day. Being too tired can cause poor performance at work. It can cause you to slack on things you need to keep up with at home. And it can cause you to miss out on fully enjoying time spent with family and friends. Most importantly, fatigue puts you at risk any time you get behind the wheel. Driving while overly tired is as dangerous as driving while distracted or under the influence.

Sleep apnea also affects mood and anxiety. Being fatigued throughout the day makes it hard to have a positive attitude. And lacking a positive attitude affects the ability to care about your dietary health, or your weight. When you dont have the energy to get through your normal day-to-day activities, how will you have the energy to put forth the effort to cook a nutritious meal, or go to the gym? Because it is easier to succumb to the temptations of fast food and sedentary activities, this is often the case with people who suffer from sleep apnea.

Getting Treatment for Your Sleep Apnea

Before you get treatment, you will need to be evaluated by an ear, nose, and throat specialist, called an ENT. They will run some tests to get down to the source of the problem. If you are overweight, for example, then the ENT might refer you to a dietitian to lose weight before trying more invasive treatments. If your body has structural issues that cause your sleep apnea, on the other hand, then the ENT may recommend surgery to repair the problem in hopes of eliminating the condition.

What treatment your doctor prescribes may vary depending on your age, weight, and the severity of your condition. Most cases of sleep apnea are successfully treated with a CPAP machine. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, and uses a mild air pressure to keep airways open. The machine requires wearing a mask each night, and the amount of pressure that goes through your airway will be titrated to your exact needs.

Although sleep apnea is a growing concern in the health field, one that is racking up billions of dollars in research and health care, we are fortunate that treatments exist to help us successfully manage the symptoms. If you think you suffer from sleep apnea, then it is imperative that you make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can refer you to an ENT who can properly evaluate you to determine if your restless nights are truly caused by sleep apnea, or something else entirely.