Tired All the Time? It Could Be Sleep Apnea

bed pillowsAre you exhausted all the time? Do you have trouble concentrating or remembering important dates? Do you fall asleep while watching TV, while driving?

You could be overworked and overtired (what mom isn't?). Or you could be suffering from sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by a disruption or pause in breathing. I asked Dr. Avi Ishaaya, an expert in sleep therapy, to give us the 411 on this serious disorder.


CafeMom: What are the most common symptoms of sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is disorder that presents itself with sleepiness, poor concentration, irritability, difficulty remembering things, fatigue, exhaustion, and having no energy to get up and go...If people are big snorers, that can be a sign of sleep apnea. Another sign is if they have pathological sleepiness: falling asleep in the car, falling asleep while watching TV, etc.

What causes sleep apnea?

The most common cause is being overweight or obese. Other causes include jaw problems, large tonsils, enlarged tongue, and deviated septum.

Can stress also cause sleep apnea? 

Stress can not cause sleep apnea, but it can worsen it, as can nasal congestion, allergies, colds, drinking alcohol before bedtime, exposure to fumes or smoke—basically anything that can inflame the airway.

What actually occurs when someone has an episode of sleep apnea?

For those patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), there are two areas in the back of the throat that collapse when they sleep...In some overweight and obese people, fat deposits can strangle or narrow the airway. In others, the muscles that keep the throat open are not active when sleeping.

When airways collapse, you don't have enough oxygen going through. Your brain does not have enough oxygen. People stop breathing and wake up abruptly, gasping and choking for air. This can happen many times throughout the night—as many as 120 times an hour. People with sleep apnea don't realize that they have it; they think this is how they supposed to feel (very fatigued, without energy, etc.).

What are the dangers of sleep apnea?

Many people think that sleep apnea is not a problem. But, in addition to the chronic issues mentioned above, sleep apnea [and the resulting oxygen deprivation] can also lead to high blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease, stroke, increased risk of arrhythmia, pulmonary hypertension, chronically low oxygen during the day, and the right heart can start to fail. Also, recent literature has come out suggesting that patients who are chronically untreated for sleep apnea can have long-term, irreversible memory problems.

What should you do if you think you have sleep apnea? Is there treatment?

Weight loss leads to reversal in some cases. Otherwise, if you think you have sleep apnea, you should consult  your doctor. If your doctor suspects sleep apnea, she/he may send you to a sleep specialist or sleep clinic or send you for a sleep study.  

CPAP [Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is a method of treatment involving a mask that fits underneath the nose and pushes filtered air through nose and mouth and acts sort of like a straw of air so that these areas don't collapse. The CPAP helps to overcome the obstruction while the patient is sleeping, and allows for he/she to sleep through the night, uninterrupted. Treating sleep apnea allows the patient to be functional and energetic.

In some cases, treating sleep apnea can help people to lose weight more successfully. Patients tend to gain more weight when sleep-deprived. 

In addition to CPAP, other methods of treatment include dental appliances, which can be molded to the upper and lower teeth, and oral surgery.

Dr. Avi is medical director of two Aviisha Medical Wellness Institutes in California. Visit the site to take a complete sleep apnea quiz, learn more about sleep apnea and its possible health affects, and find information on how to treat sleep apnea.

Do you have sleep apnea? Do you know someone who does?


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