Research shows that sleep apnea affects 6 percent of the world’s population each year. The condition is most common in adults over the age of 45 years old especially those who are overweight. According to recent research by the national institute of health, sleep apnea is the number one cause of sleeplessness in adults.

Signs and symptoms of apnea

Here are the common signs and symptoms of apnea:

  • Snoring loudly more so when the snoring has pauses of breathing and sound
  • Waking up suddenly due to difficulty in breathing
  • Experiencing pausing in breathing or flow of air
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth , sore throat or bad breath
  • Poor memory and trouble concentrating
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Hormonal imbalance and risk of other sleep disorders such as insomnia
  • Night sweats and frequent urination
  • Impotence and infertility
  • Choking and snorting or gasping when asleep

Types of sleep apnea

There are three types of sleep apnea. Even though they are all triggered by different factors, they have common signs and also complications. Let’s look at the three subtypes of sleep apnea:

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea

This is the most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when there is abnormal throat muscle relaxation which tends to cause loud snoring. For normal mechanism, the throat muscles support the breathing mechanism by relaxing and tensing parts of the mouth and esophagus to allow for air to pass through.

Abnormal relaxation of the throat muscles leads to shortness of breath while one is sleep. As a result oxygen supply is cut off to the brain leading to grasping for air which eventually leads to abrupt waking up.

  1. Central sleep apnea

This type of apnea occurs when the brain fails or stops sending signals to the muscles that help control breathing. People with sleep apnea make no effort to breathe normally as their throat muscles never contract, this way they are left with short of breath.

  1. Complex sleep apnea syndrome

The complex sleep apnea syndrome is said to have occurred when one has both characteristics of obstructive and central sleep apnea.

How do I tell the difference, is it sleep apnea or just snoring?

Not every person who snores has sleep apnea and vice-versa. Is it possible to tell the difference between sleep apnea and snoring?

  • Snoring rarely interrupts the quality of your sleep as much as apnea does. In this case, you are not likely to suffer from extreme fatigue and sleepiness during the day.
  • Extreme fatigue and lack of concentration are one of the biggest sign of sleep apnea. It is advisable to visit your doctor whenever you notice such symptoms.

Sleep apnea treatments

A sleep apnea specialist may help you find an effective treatment especially if you have already tried changing your lifestyle without significant success.

  • With central and complex sleep apnea, treatment involves solving the underlying cause.

The most effective and common treatments associated with sleep apnea include:

1. Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP)

This is the most effective treatment for moderate and severe obstructive apnea. This device resembles a mask and covers the nose and mouth giving you a constant stream of air that helps keep the breathing passages open during sleep.

The technology of this mask machine is continuously getting improved, each day they become lighter and quiet. Here is how to use the CPAP machine effectively:

  • Make sure the mask fits correctly
  • Start off by using the machine for shorter periods
  • Using the tubing straps, customize your mask. You can get yourself soft pads to avoid skin irritation and nasal pillows for nose discomfort.
  • Get yourself a CPAP device that has a bit humidifier to help you decrease dryness and skin irritation
  • In case of nasal congestion, have a saline nasal spray ready at hand.
  • Always keep the mask clean to ensure maximum comfort
  • Reduce the noise of the CPAP machine to help you reduce the noise and use the sound machine to help you sleep.

2. Expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP) 

This is a single device that fits over the nostrils to help you keep the airway open and smaller than the conventional CPAP machine. This kind of devices benefits people with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea.

3. Bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP)

This type of devices can be used for those who are unable to adapt using CPAP or those people with central apnea who need much support for their weak breathing system. The device incredibly adjusts pressure while you happen to be sleeping giving you more pressure when you inhale and less when you exhale.

4. Adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV)

This device can be used to treat obstructive apnea as well as central sleep apnea. The devices store information about one’s normal breathing pattern and automatically use the airflow to prevent pauses in the breathing while one is sleep.

5. Dental devices

Majority of dental devices are made of acrylic that perfectly fit into one’s mouth. Some fit around the head and chin to have you adjust the position of the lower jaw. The two common dental devices include:

  • Mandibular responding devices
  • Tongue retaining devices

The two devices above help open the airway by bringing the lower jaw or the tongue forward when one is sleeping

The dental devices are mainly used for mild to moderate sleep apnea. The devices are better fitted by a professional dentist. One may also need to see a dentist more often to monitor any problems arising and advice accordingly.

The most common side effect of dental devices include nausea, saliva build-up, and soreness

6. Sleep apnea implants

Apnea implants process involves insertion of a pacemaker system that stimulates muscles of the throat to keep the airway open. The implants are designed for people with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea

7. Throat exercises

By doing throat exercises, you are likely to reduce the severity of sleep apnea. The exercises help you strengthen the muscles in the airway hence making them less collapsible. Here are the exercises to try:

  1. Press your tongue flat against the floor of the mouth and blush top and sides with a toothbrush. Repeat such exercises about five times a day
  2. Press the length of the tongue to the roof of the mouth and hold for three minutes a day
  3. Place a finger on one side of the mouth. Hold your finger against the cheek while pulling the cheek muscle at the same time. Do this about ten times and change sides, do this about three times a day.
  4. Shape your lips as if you want to kiss. Hold the lips tightly together and then move up to the right of the mouth as if to inflate a balloon. Do these exercises about five times a day without removing the balloon from the mouth.
  5. Try and gaggle water for five minutes at least twice a day
  6. Try and lightly hold your tongue between the teeth. Swallow at least five times a day.

8. Surgery

Surgery usually comes as a last resort. It is mainly done to increase the size of your airway hence decreasing the episodes of apnea significantly.

Surgery involves removal of tonsils adenoids and excess tissue at the back or side of the throat. Even though surgery carries complications such as infections, it goes a long way to helping one solve chronic apnea.

Bedtime tips to help you prevent apnea

Take a look at the following tips for preventing apnea during bedtime:

  • Always sleep on your side; sleeping on the back makes it more ease for your tongue and soft tissues to obstruct the airway.
  • Use the tennis ball trick to keep yourself from rolling onto the back during your sleep. You can wedge a pillow to help you achieve this
  • Always prop your head up by elevating the head of the bed to six inches or elevate your body from the waist upwards.
  • Open the nasal passages at night by use of a dilator, saline spray, and nasal irrigation system
  • Always tighten the muscles that keep the mouth closed by chewing gum until the jaw begins to ache.
  • A little singing goes a long way in helping you increase muscle control of the throat and soft palate helping you reduce snoring and apnea caused by lax muscles

Lifestyle changes to help you reduce apnea symptoms

Here are some of the positive changes you need to make in your lifestyle to help kick out sleep apnea:

  • Make changes in your weight. Lose weight people who are overweight have an extra embedded tissue at the back of their throat. In most times this tissue falls over the airway and block the flow of the air into the lungs while they are sleep.
  • Smoking increases chances of an apnea attack by increasing inflammation and fluid retention in the throat and upper airway. It is important that you quit smoking
  • Do not be dependent on alcohol and sleeping pills just because they help you relax and fall asleep fast.
  • Try and exercise regularly. Exercises such as yoga help relax and contract the throat muscles in the airway and improve breathing.
  • Avoid caffeine and heavy meals before bedtime, they over stimulate the throat, and abdominal muscles are increasing their contraction irritating.
  • Always maintain regular sleep hours by sticking to a steady sleep schedule to help you relax and have a better sleep.
  • Utilize adaptogen herbs like ginseng and maca, which can help you control health conditions that may make it harder for you to lose weight.
  • Use essential oils in a bid to lose weight. Natural oils include cinnamon and ginger they help you control your appetite and control symptoms of a stubborn digestive system.
  • Always treat acid reflux and nasal congestion so that you decrease chances of these problems interfering with your regular breathing system.

Final thoughts on sleep apnea

Because sleep apnea cause poor sleep, it is essential that you pay close attention to the signs and symptoms you experience. It is vital that you understand that snoring is not the same as sleep apnea. Even though snoring is a common occurrence among adults, excessive snoring may interrupt your sleeping pattern and quality of sleep you experience. The small changes that you make in your lifestyle go along in helping you deal with sleep apnea.