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Once you fall asleep, you don’t really think about what your body is doing. What if, while you were asleep, you stopped breathing and, after a few seconds, you gasp for air to start breathing again? What if this doesn’t happen just once – it happens hundreds of times a night every night? And, the kicker, what if you didn’t even know it was happening? Such is the life of those with sleep apnea.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder whereby a person’s breathing stops and starts throughout the night. Do you snore loudly? Has your partner ever said anything like, “it was like you stopped breathing and then, all of a sudden, you snored so loud while gasping for air?” Are you tired throughout the day? These are all warning signs of sleep apnea.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are three different types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea, the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax
- Central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea
It’s estimated that one in 15 adults in the United States have obstructive sleep apnea, which equals 18 million people. Approximately 80 percent of these people are undiagnosed. Although men are at a higher risk of sleep apnea than women, both sexes can suffer from this disorder. Children and teenagers can also have sleep apnea, although at a lower rate of prevalence. Approximately 2 percent of children suffer from sleep apnea, sometimes caused by enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids.
Basically, sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in your throat relax after you fall asleep. As a result, soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway. This leads to either a reduction in breathing, or hypopnea, or pause in breathing, also known as an apnea.
Health Issues Caused by Sleep Apnea
Lack of quality sleep can seriously put your health at risk. Having untreated sleep apnea prevents you from getting a full night’s sleep by waking you up hundreds of times a night – even though you don’t realize it.
Sleep apnea can lead to a slew of different health issues, such as: heart disease, diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, obesity, anxiety, and many others. Not to put too fine a point on it, but uncontrolled sleep apnea, over time, can lead to your death. Whether it’s a heart attack, stroke, or falling asleep at the wheel because you’re not getting enough sleep, one way or another it will kill you.
A perfect example of this is former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was 79 years old when he died in a hotel room in 2016. Scalia had numerous serious health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea. When police searched his hotel room, they found his breathing apparatus which manages sleep apnea, but it was unplugged and not turned on.
How to Get Better Rest with Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can’t be treated by buying an over-the-counter remedy. First, you need to see a sleep doctor who will have you do a sleep study. These sleep studies, for the most part, center around you being hooked up to some wires and sleeping while information is sent back for the doctor to examine. At that point, the doctor will determine if you have sleep apnea.
The most common solution for those who suffer from sleep apnea is wearing the breathing apparatus Justice Scalia failed to use, a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (or CPAP) machine. A CPAP machine pushes air through a tube into a mask you wear while you sleep, preventing your throat from collapsing.
If your sleep apnea is deemed too much for a CPAP to handle, your doctor might prescribe a BPAP, or Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure machine. Whereas a CPAP machine pumps out the same amount of airflow throughout the night, the BPAP machine pushes out a stronger amount when you breathe in, and lowers the airflow so you can breathe out.
There is a chance that your level of sleep apnea can be addressed without the use of a machine. Diet and exercise can play a big part helping you avoid sleep apnea – but it is still not a healthy alternative to seeing a doctor.
With or without a machine, those with sleep apnea have a better chance at a good night’s sleep by having the right pillow. You don’t want your neck to be bent forward while you sleep – remember, you’re trying to avoid the muscle and tissue collapse in the back of your throat. Instead, you want a pillow that will keep your head and neck aligned with your spine.
Visit a Mattress Warehouse location today and ask a sales representative which pillow they would recommend for someone with sleep apnea. Also, there are select adjustable bases that help with snoring, so be sure to ask about those as well.