Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a serious medical condition that occurs when either the soft tissues toward the back of the throat collapse or the tongue falls backward and blocks the airway during sleep.
A person with Obstructive Sleep Apnea can stop breathing hundreds of times each night for periods lasting 10 to 30 seconds. This translates into an hour or more without oxygen every night.
Eighteen million Americans, many of them African American and Hispanic men, suffer with Obstructive Sleep Apnea. If you are overweight, male and/or over 40 years old, you are more likely to develop OSA.
Some of the more common symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea include loud snoring, gasping for breath, periods of not breathing, disrupted sleep and chronic daytime sleepiness.
Most people who have OSA are unaware they have a problem. They may just wake up with a dry mouth, have a headache or feel perpetually fatigued. They try hard to make it through the day, but often need a nap or, more dangerously, fall asleep while driving.
Individuals with Obstructive Sleep Apnea are at increased risk for car accidents and poor work performance. This reduced cognitive functioning may also lead them to make poor decisions and more easily fight with family members, friends and coworkers.
Individuals with Obstructive Sleep Apnea are also at much higher risk for several serious heart, brain and blood vessel diseases including hypertension, heart attack, heart failure and stroke.
They are also at risk for a condition called pulmonary hypertension in which the blood pressure of the blood vessels supplying the lungs is high. Since the blood moves through the lung’s blood vessels so quickly, much less oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream for delivery to the rest of the body.
Recent research has also proven than Obstructive Sleep Apnea can cause your body to more poorly use glucose, the body’s main fuel, whether you are overweight or not. This is very important because impaired glucose metabolism is a risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes. When Type 2 diabetes leads to weight gain, OSA symptoms worsen.
More severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea leads the body to ineffectively use glucose. This in turn, leads to more weight gain and a worsening of OSA symptoms. This viscous cycle can be seen in the diagram to the left.
The good news is that all of this cycle’s elements – OSA, Type 2 diabetes and weight gain – can be halted or even reversed. There are a variety of treatment options available for Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Some of them, such as nasal decongestant medications and sleeping on your side instead of your back, are meant for very mild Obstructive Sleep Apnea sufferers.
Other treatment modalities, such as oral appliances (mouthpieces & mouth guards) worn to keep your airway open, a breathing mask with a machine which continually blows air down your throat to keep your airway open and surgery to remove the excess tissue in the back of your throat to permanently widen your airway, can correct even severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea conditions.
Whichever treatment strategies you decide to use, they will be much more effective if they are accompanied by lifestyle changes such as losing weight, quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol.
If you implement these lifestyle changes and get your Obstructive Sleep Apnea treated, you can begin to feel rested and rejuvenated right away. This translates into more energy and higher productivity at work.
You will also notice a dramatic reduction in the lapses in judgment which can cause car accidents and feeling irritated or even fighting with friends and family.
These short term improvements will help you stay motivated to eat more healthfully, exercise and stop smoking, thus turning that vicious cycle into a victorious, reclaimed life.