Sleep apnea: how to know if you suffer from it

Un homme dort dans un lit

Do you snore at night? Do you wake up tired in the morning? You might suffer from sleep apnea.

First of all, what exactly is sleep apnea? It’s a breathing disorder that happens when you’re asleep. Your breathing stops involuntarily and it can happen several times a night, at varying frequencies. It sounds like loud snoring. And that means it can wake you or your better half up.

As it disturbs your sleep, you may very well feel less rested the next morning. If this sounds all too familiar, you might suffer from sleep apnea. It generally affects people between the ages of 30 and 60, mainly men. They say that 5% of women suffer from it, compared to 15% of men.

Sleep apnea or just snoring?

Snoring at night does not necessarily mean you have sleep apnea. Sure, it can become irritating over time but if there are no pauses in breathing then it isn’t a sleep disorder per se. Studies show that more than one in three adults snore regularly.

Many unwanted effects

There are many symptoms caused by sleep apnea and they’re sometimes misdiagnosed. You might mistake it for the onset of depression: health experts who specialize in sleep studies say that because sleep apnea affects mood and energy levels during the day, about two-thirds of people in Quebec who suffer from it are prescribed antidepressants.

Weight problems?

Sleep apnea sometimes follows excessive weight problems. Fatty tissue in the throat reduces airflow. Your airways are likely to become blocked and the muscles around it eventually collapse and cause obstruction. This can last several seconds.

Heart and brain

You may also experience the negative effects of sleep apnea on your heart and brain. It causes you to stop breathing and that increases stress on your cardiac system, which makes your heart start to beat faster. Your brain health can also be impacted. Your blood pressure rises if the level of oxygen in your blood is reduced. The opposite should happen at night so that your body can recover and rest.

Basically, if nothing is done, your sleep will continue to be restless.

What to do?

The first step is to seek help if you think you suffer from sleep apnea. Bear in mind that no medication exists to treat it. But don’t despair! There are some solutions that could interest you.

For example, wearing a respiratory mask to keep airways open could help. This approach is called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy and it’s been known to be effective. You’ll have to get used to wearing a mask at night and that could take time.

People who use it report remarkable results, usually four to six weeks after starting treatment. They sleep better and so feel more rested during the day. That has a positive impact on their quality of life. You may find you can’t go without it.

If you’re not digging the mask, it’s always recommended to make healthy lifestyle choices to minimize the impact of disorders like this one. Sleep apnea is often associated with physical inactivity and being overweight. You should also consider ramping up your level of daily activity and reviewing your diet.

That being said, sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that you have to take seriously if you’re affected. It’s a better idea to fight it before you start to experience long-term symptoms. When in doubt, consult a healthcare professional.