Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders. 

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, nearly 30 million U.S. adults have obstructive sleep apnea; about 23.5 million of those cases are undiagnosed.

It can be caused by the collapse of soft tissue in your throat, which blocks airflow during sleep. The interruption in breathing events cause you to wake up gasping for air and unable to breathe properly. These periods of intermittent hypoxia can cause significant stress on your body over time. 

Frequent night wakings can not only leave you tired but also negatively impact your physical and emotional health. 

Signs of Sleep Apnea

Are you experiencing any of these symptoms? If so, you may be living with sleep apnea and not even know it. The common symptoms of the sleep breathing disorder include:

  • Snoring
  • Fatigue
  • Morning headaches
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss or forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Heartburn
  • Weight gain

Residual symptoms of the condition include: 

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Loss of libido
  • Sleep terrors

Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Serious? 

Sleep apnea is serious because it can lead to other health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, anxiety, memory impairment and obesity. In fact, people who have sleep apnea are more likely to suffer from those conditions than those without the condition.

Other complications or side effects from sleep apnea include :

  • Risk of accidents due to drowsiness and lack of sleep
  • Increased risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Poor quality of life
  • Decreased productivity at work
  • Learning disabilities
  • Impeded growth
  • Metabolic factors, including diabetes

What Causes Sleep Apnea? 

There are physiological factors that contribute to obstructive sleep apnea, such as age, gender, weight, neck circumference and genetics. Other contributing factors include:

  • Obesity/high Body Mass Index
  • Certain medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, lung diseases, thyroid disorders and certain medications
  • Having an enlarged tongue
  • Being male

But are there behaviors or lifestyle choices that contribute to the sleep disorder as well? 

Yes, there are. 

Behaviors that can increase the risk of developing sleep apnea or worsening the sleep breathing disorder include: 

Smoking. The nicotine in tobacco has been shown to cause relaxation of the muscles in the upper airway, making them more likely to collapse during sleep. It can also irritate the soft tissues of the throat, causing inflammation and swelling and making it harder for you to breathe. 

Alcohol use. Drinking alcohol increases the amount of fluid in the lungs, which makes it harder to breathe when lying down. Also, if you drink too much alcohol, you may have difficulty falling asleep because the alcohol will keep you awake. Alcohol also impedes your body from getting restful sleep (even though many people think it helps them sleep better). Add alcohol to a sleep breathing disorder and you will wake up feeling tired and terrible.

Excessive caffeine intake. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and may make it difficult to fall asleep. If you’re drinking coffee before bedtime, switch to decaf. Also limit tea and energy drink consumption throughout the day. 

Using illegal drugs. These substances affect how your brain works, which may interfere with normal sleep patterns. 

Sleeping on your back. When you lie on your back, gravity pulls your tongue backward into your throat, blocking the flow of air into your lungs. 

Changing Behaviors

Sleep apnea may not be something you can get rid of, but you can improve your health outcomes of the condition by modifying your behaviors. We recommend that you: 

Have a solid bedtime routine. 

Stop smoking. This is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your chances of developing sleep apnea.

Limit alcohol consumption. A few drinks won’t hurt you, but excessive amounts of alcohol can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Instead, try to avoid consuming any alcoholic beverages within six hours of going to bed. 

Reduce caffeine consumption. Some people find that they need less caffeine after they stop smoking. However, if you’re still using caffeine regularly, cut back gradually over time. You should never consume caffeine within three hours of going to bed since this could interfere with your ability to fall asleep.

Try to maintain a healthy weight. Losing just 5 percent of your current weight can help lower your risk of developing a sleep disorder. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, losing 10 pounds would decrease your risk of developing sleep apnea by about 50 percent.

Avoid sleeping on your back. This position puts pressure on your neck and throat, which can narrow the airways and block airflow. Make sure you always sleep on your side or stomach.

Use an oral appliance. An oral appliance is a small device worn inside your mouth that changes the shape of your jaw, helping to open your airway. Oral appliances are usually prescribed by your dentist and used along with other treatments to treat mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea.

Get regular exercise. Exercise reduces stress levels and improves overall well-being. It also strengthens muscles around your neck, making it easier for you to breathe while you sleep.

Insufficient sleep is a serious problem that can impact every aspect of your life. But there are simple steps you can take to improve your quality of sleep. The first step is to schedule a consultation with us for diagnosis and to learn about your treatment options.