If you are prone to snoring throughout the night — you know the loud, log-sawing, rock-tumbling kind of snoring — and often wake up feeling tired despite a full 7-9 hours of sleep, you might ask yourself, “do I have sleep apnea?” Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which your breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night. While there are three distinct types of sleep apnea, the most common type is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates roughly 22 million Americans suffer from the condition. Is it possible that you have sleep apnea? Other questions you might have are, is sleep apnea hereditary? Can you die from sleep apnea? How to tell if you have sleep apnea? Is sleep apnea genetic?
The Three Types of Sleep Apnea
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) — is caused by your upper airway getting partially (or completely) blocked when you sleep. This obstruction causes the chest muscles and diaphragm to work harder to open up the blocked airway to draw in a breath.
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) — is caused by your brain functioning incorrectly, forgetting to tell your muscles to breathe, and therefore causing you to breathe at irregular intervals while you sleep. This is MUCH less common than OSA.
- Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome — is when you have both of the other types of sleep apnea at the same time… even rarer, still!
What Are The Sleep Apnea Symptoms And How To Tell If You Have Sleep Apnea?
The symptoms of all three types of sleep apnea overlap, which can make it difficult to determine which you might have, but there are common signs that indicate there’s an overall apnea-related problem. People often wonder if the sleep apnea symptoms in women are any different from in men — the answer is a resounding nope! Sleep apnea symptoms in women and men are the same, though men are more likely to have sleep apnea than women by a large margin.
How to tell if you have sleep apnea:
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Not breathing while you sleep
- Waking up with dry mouth
- Headaches in the morning
- Tired throughout the day
Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Because Obstructive Sleep Apnea is significantly more common than central sleep apnea, if you take note of any of the above symptoms, see if you exhibit any of the risk factors for the disorder below. Some of them can be simply addressed, but some are dictated by nature:
- Excess Weight. Fat deposits around your upper airway and can obstruct your breathing while you sleep. This is one reason why older folks are more partial to sleep apnea.
- Neck Circumference. The thicker your neck, the narrower the space for your airway
- Men. Sorry, snoring fellas. It’s estimated that men are more likely than women to develop sleep apnea by 8:1! Pretty bad odds, but what’re you gonna do?
- Family History. Is sleep apnea genetic? Is sleep apnea hereditary? Unfortunately, yes. It’s worth checkin’ in with your parents about it because you may have a genetic predisposition to the disorder and can take precautions.
- Use of Sedatives. Anything that relaxes your throat muscles is more likely to cause sleep apnea: that goes for alcohol, tranquilizers, marijuana, opioids, and others in the same category. If you’re drinking alcohol within several hours of bed every night, it might help if you hold back!
- Smoking. Smokers are more likely to have OSA than non-smokers, likely due to inflammation and fluid retention of the upper airway.
- Nasal Congestion. If you have difficulty breathing through your nose because of allergies or anatomical problems, you’re more likely to suffer from OSA by way of increased mouth breathing.
Are You In Danger? Can You Die From Sleep Apnea?
Well… the good news is, it is unlikely that you will die from sleep apnea. The bad news is that complications from sleep disorder are numerous and aren’t pretty:
- High Blood Pressure. Because sleep apnea patients experience abrupt changes in blood oxygen levels throughout the night, your blood pressure increases and puts a strain on your cardiovascular system. The risk of high blood pressure is much higher if you have OSA. Your risk of heart attacks, abnormal heartbeats, and stroke are all increased as well. Lower blood oxygen can be deadly.
- Type 2 Diabetes. Sleep apnea does increase your risk of developing insulin resistance & type 2 diabetes as a result.
- Metabolic Syndrome. In conjunction with high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome also includes abnormal cholesterol levels and high blood sugar. It’s linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
- Sleep Deprivation. For you and/or your partner, sleep apnea can cause you to have a less restful sleep. It’s important to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night… and not broken up by fits of gasping or endless snoring. The REM/NREM cycles work in a very particular way — when you don’t sleep soundly, you interrupt your own ability to recover both mentally and physically.
What Can I Do About It?
The first order of business to stop sleep apnea is to make some simple (yet often difficult) lifestyle changes. Here are a few things you can do to potentially improve your situation right away:
- Lose Weight. Being overweight is a common reason why people snore and potentially develop apnea. While a CPAP machine (which aids in keeping constant airflow through a face mask) can treat it, if excessive weight is the cause of your sleep apnea, toning your neck muscles and getting rid of fat deposits can actually cure it.
- Avoid Alcohol. It causes the upper airway muscles to relax — if it’s a culprit, cutting it out (at least of your evenings) can help tremendously.
- Stop Smoking. If you’re a smoker, you’re surely aware of all of the health risks of smoking — it inflames the upper airway and throat tissues. If you stop, it might just help you get a better night of sleep.
- Antihistamines. Try taking an antihistamine tablet in the evening if you find yourself with post-nasal drip, excessive mucus, or potential allergies that clog up your nose.
- Talk to Your Doctor. If you’re not sure what to do… talk to your doctor!
Sleep Apnea Doesn’t Have to Control You!
While sleep apnea can objectively make your life (and your partner’s) more difficult and uncomfortable on a daily basis, don’t worry! There are steps you can take to make progress dealing with it. It may be one of the most common sleep disorders, but it doesn’t have to control your life. Take a look at the symptoms (ask someone to monitor your sleep or take part in a sleep study if you can), consider the risk factors and predispositions you have, and seek treatment. Sleep is important! You can’t sacrifice it and you can’t catch up on it, so you might as well get the best quality sleep that you can.