Sleep apnea is a condition where breathing temporarily ceases during sleep, often several times during the same night. Occasional episodes of sleep apnea are not usually nor harmful in themselves. However, tiredness, headaches and depression are common among those affected. Persistent sleep apnea with multiple breathing pauses per hour can, for example, cause high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
There are two types of sleep apnea: The most common – obstructive sleep apnea – occurs when the muscles of the neck and throat relax during sleep, causing the tongue to fall behind in the throat and limiting oxygen supply to the lungs.
Central sleep apnea is less common and occurs when the brain does not send enough activation signals to the respiratory muscles during sleep.
Common to both types is that the oxygen level in the blood drops, which quickly activates the respiratory centers in the brain leading to a brief awakening to catch the breath. Many sufferers experience up to 30 episodes of sleep apnea per hour, although most do not remember waking up several times during the night.
Several different factors can increase the risk of sleep apnea. Some of the most common include:
- Obesity: Fat accumulated around the neck can make breathing difficult, especially during sleep when the muscles are relaxed.
- Alcohol consumption, especially in the evening, often causes neck and throat muscles to relax too much during the night.
- Medicines such as sleeping pills can have the same effect as alcohol.
- Smokers suffer from sleep apnea three times more than non-smokers.
- Postmenopausal women are affected to a greater extent than young women.
People with sleep apnea tend to have problems with excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), impaired alertness and vision problems.
The disruption in their daytime cognitive state can also lead to behavioral side effects, such as moodiness, belligerence and a decrease in attentiveness and energy. Untreated, these side effects may become intractable, leading to depression.
There are several ways to treat sleep apnea. The first and most important step in treatment is to change lifestyle. If overweight, weight reduction can have a positive effect on sleep apnea.
Restricting the intake of sleeping pills and alcohol, especially at night, is also a very important step in treatment.
If these methods are not effective or have only limited impact, there are other treatment options. CPAP or “Continuous Positive Air Pressure” is the leading therapy for sleep apnea, whereby patients wear a face or nasal mask during sleep. The mask, connected to a pump, provides a positive flow of air into the nasal passages in order to keep the airway open at night.
When to consult a doctor
Many people suffering from sleep apnea are completely unaware of their condition. A common symptom is daytime fatigue, which can both limit your efficiency at work and your energy in social contexts.
Since sleep apnea can ultimately lead to more serious problems, e.g. long-term cardiovascular disease, it is good to seek treatment as soon as possible.
How APPOTEK can help
APPOTEK can help you if you suspect you may have sleep apnea. After an online consultation, the physician may refer you for a physical examination. It is also possible to get a referral to a specialist clinic for further investigation.