What Should You Do About Sleep Apnea?

There is no cure for sleep apnea, and treatments, like treatment for other breathing disorders, often only do what is necessary to help the person regain breathing control, in the process helping others who are also sleep deprived. And, while sleep apnea is common, a sleep study that will be published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, should increase awareness about the long-term impact of sleep apnea. Let’s talk about what we should be doing.

What are the implications of having sleep apnea? A lot of my patients are having to do more than just stay in bed or fall asleep. Their lives are impacted by this disorder, not just when it comes to sleep, but at work, in activities they love, at home, and in their relationships.

When a person has sleep apnea, the person’s airway fills with air and it gets hard to keep the airway open, leading to a lot of snoring and snoring that is loud or hard in some cases. Snoring also slows someone’s heart rate, which means that the person’s blood pressure gets higher, putting that person at risk of a heart attack or at stroke risk. Snoring is also a sign that a person’s airway muscles are weak (these muscles are called the trachea and bronchus).

When you have sleep apnea, your airway gets hard, you have difficulty breathing, your heart rate goes up, and other breathing disorders happen. It’s not just that someone stops breathing; it’s that the respiratory system of your body stops working.

If you have sleep apnea and your chest movements are not frequent, you are just like everyone else. You are breathing less and more frequently. But sleep apnea also affects you by making you feel tired, weak, anxious, and even afraid of falling asleep. Some sleep apnea is severe enough that your heart rate is high. The most severe case is in people who have had a serious sleep apnea attack. Sometimes it can even lead to death.

But how did this problem emerge? In addition to the fact that our airways get hard when we sleep, it turns out that many people, especially those in middle age or older age, have had episodes of a sleep apnea. And once they have had a sleep apnea, it is a continuous problem, which means that it can occur many years in a person’s life, possibly more than once. The longer a person has had sleep apnea, the more likely it is to be a chronic problem, but this is not yet proven. Another reason it is so common might be because the sleep apnea only happens to one person’s body each year.

If you think that something is wrong with your breathing, sleep apnea is not only a sign of the condition, it can also be something to be worried about and monitored during the day as a problem, rather than just a symptom.

When an hour-long nap happens, when you take a big breath or get out of bed and walk around, and when your heart rate slows and you sweat, you will know that your breath is more than shallow because the airway is more narrow than it was during the waking hours.  If an episode is occurring frequently, you need to take extra care and be alert for it. If it takes longer for the problem to stop or worsens at home or at work, this means it is an issue that needs to be taken seriously by the person with sleep apnea. If it is the result of a sleep disorder, especially obstructive sleep apnea, the person should talk to their doctor. 

There is no known cure for sleep apnea. However, you can take steps to prevent it by making sure you:

Keep the airway open and relax with each breath. Sleep well. Do not snore loudly because this increases the risk of an apneic episode.