Woman Sleeping

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA for short) affects 18 million Americans, and you could be one of them. Chances are you sleep next to someone with sleep apnea. They may be loud snorers, or they may stop breathing for a period of time. You are always trying to roll them over, prop them up, or give them a good shake to make them breathe normally (and hopefully more quietly). While sleep apnea may seem like more of an inconvenience than a serious problem, men and women who suffer from the condition can experience some very real and potentially serious complications.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is triggered when the tongue and other soft tissues inside the mouth relax and slide backward into the throat–blocking the airway of the sleeping person. This triggers snoring as the tongue and tonsils rattle against the throat and may completely close off your body’s ability to  move air in or out. This drops the body’s oxygen levels and the brain comes alive: waking you from sleep and stimulating your body to breathe.

Men and women who have sleep apnea may wake up dozens of times every night. He or she  may not even wake fully enough to realize what’s happening, but these frequent changes in sleep cycle and drops in oxygen levels trigger the production of stress hormones that raise the risk for :

  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • strokes
  • heart failure
  • irregular heartbeats

Self Care for Sleep Apnea: What YOU Can Do

If you or a loved one has sleep apnea, it is important to see your doctor right away. To diagnose sleep apnea, you will need a sleep study test. This painless test allows doctors to monitor your body’s response and sleep cycle through small electrodes connected to your scalp. If you do have apnea, your doctor may prescribe a CPAP machine. This machine pushes air into your lungs through a small mask while you sleep–keeping the airway open and eliminating those drops in oxygen and all the snoring. CPAP machines often make patients feel much better because they are finally able to rest uninterrupted at night.

You can also control OSA with some other steps. See your doctor first, then consider these steps:

  • Lose weight if needed. Being overweight is the most important risk factor for apnea.
  • Avoid alcohol and stop smoking.
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Develop a good bedtime routine that promotes sleep.

Sources: WebMD and the NIH

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