Summer is many people’s favorite season. Schedules slow down, and we can take vacations, visit with friends and enjoy all the season has to offer before fall comes back around. Summer means later nights, indulging in our favorite foods (and drinks) and general relaxation. But, as with anything, there’s a price to pay for too much fun. Especially when you’re living with the sleep breathing disorder obstructive sleep apnea.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), also known as upper airway resistance syndrome, or UARS, occurs when your airways become blocked during sleep. As you breathe, your muscles relax, causing your tongue and soft tissues to collapse into your throat. This blocks airflow and causes oxygen levels to drop. When this happens repeatedly over time, it disrupts normal breathing patterns and can lead to serious health problems.
The most common symptoms include snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, irritability, memory lapses, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, infertility and even cancer.
How Does It Affect Your Body?
OSA affects about 12 percent of men and 6 percent of women between the ages of 30 and 60 years old. In fact, more than 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with some form of OSA. And that number continues to grow each year.
The good news is that OSA doesn’t have to be permanent. If caught early enough, treatment options are available to help improve your quality of life.
Summer and Sleep Apnea
When people think of OSA, they often picture someone who snores loudly and wakes up their sleeping partner. While loud snoring is one symptom of OSA, it isn’t always present. The truth is that many people don’t realize they have an issue until they wake up feeling exhausted every day.
How can summer worsen sleep apnea? Well, here are just a few ways:
Staying up late. We tend to stay up later in the summer, which means we are more tired than usual. When you’re tired, you’re also more apt to forget your sleep apnea treatment, such as a CPAP machine or oral appliance.
Drinking alcohol. Alcohol can cause you to lose muscle tone, which makes it easier for your tongue to block your airway. Plus, alcohol can make you feel sleepy and relaxed and affect your judgment, meaning you might forget to use your CPAP device.
Lack of exercise. Exercise helps keep your body healthy, but not having any physical activity at all can increase your risk of developing OSA. In the summer, many people tend to get off of their workout routines for a number of reasons, like the excess heat, kids’ summer plans or vacations.
More screen time. Sitting on the couch watching TV or surfing the web may seem harmless, but these activities can impact your sleep, leading to fatigue and disrupted sleep cycles.
Here Are Some Ways You Can Help Prevent Summer Sleep Apnea
1. Get plenty of rest. Try to go to bed earlier so you won’t be tempted to stay up late. Also, try to avoid napping after lunchtime.
2. Avoid alcohol. Don’t drink alcohol before trying to sleep. Alcohol can affect your ability to breathe properly.
3. Stay active. Getting regular exercise will help you maintain muscle tone and prevent weight gain, both of which can contribute to OSA.
4. Remember your sleep apnea treatment. Don’t forget to use your oral appliance or CPAP machine.
The Side Effects of Sleep Apnea
If left untreated, OSA can negatively impact your overall health. Here are just a few of the side effects associated with untreated sleep apnea:
High blood pressure. Untreated sleep apnea can raise your blood pressure, which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease. Sleep apnea can trigger irregular heartbeat, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Diabetes. People with sleep apnea are twice as likely to develop diabetes compared to those without the condition.
Depression. People with sleep apnea are three times more likely to suffer from depression than those without the condition.
Mood swings. Since sleep apnea disrupts normal breathing patterns, people with sleep apnea are more prone to mood swings and anxiety.
Weight gain. Because sleep apnea causes excessive daytime drowsiness, people with sleep apnea tend to eat more than normal. This can result in weight gain over time.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
There are several different types of treatments available for obstructive sleep apnea, including:
CPAP. Continuous positive airway pressure therapy uses a mask worn during sleep to push air into the throat and keep the airways open. It is considered the most effective treatment for mild to moderate cases of OSA.
Oral appliances. An oral appliance is a custom-made dental device that changes the position of the jaw to reduce snoring and improve airflow. These devices are usually recommended for patients who have mild to moderate forms of OSA.
Surgery. For severe cases of OSA, surgery may be an option. The goal of surgery is to remove excess tissue in the back of the throat, thus improving airflow.
Sleep Apnea and the Fall
Now that summer is winding down, does that mean relief for your sleep apnea symptoms? Not necessarily. As we head into fall, there are some things you need to know about sleep apnea and the fall season.
It’s important to note that even though it might sound like OSA is worse in the summer, the number of people diagnosed with sleep apnea actually goes up in the colder months.
If you’re already suffering from sleep apnea, you may find your symptoms get worse in cooler months due to allergens. Allergies and pollen can cause nasal congestion, which makes it hard to breathe through your nose. The colder weather also means less humidity, which means drier airways, nasal passages and lungs. This can leave you more vulnerable to illness and congestion.
Looking for relief year round? Contact us today for more information on our sleep apnea treatment options.