Waking up a little tired isn't anything new in today's fast-paced society that never seems to sleep. Even so, there's a big difference between making a conscious choice to hit the hay a little later and not getting enough recuperative sleep because of physical problems. If your daytime fatigue seems extreme and doesn't seem to go away, you could have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a medical condition in which your breathing becomes abnormally shallow or even stops when you sleep. The sequence of shallow or stopped breaths and restarting good inhalation can repeat hundreds of times per night, but most people with the condition don't know they have it. They usually think that other factors, such as too much evening caffeine or a poor bed, are to blame for the daytime tiredness that results. It's usually noticed by family members or spouses.
Types and Causes
There are two main kinds of sleep apnea. The first, obstructive, is by far more common. It involves a physical blockage of the airway. You might snore as air tries to get past the blockages, but snoring isn't found in all obstructive apnea cases. Genetics can play a role here, as some people naturally have smaller airways than others, but doctors and researchers also know that your risk goes up as your weight increases. Other issues such as allergies or sinus conditions also contribute in some people.
The second type is central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn't communicate with your respiratory system properly. Your breathing muscles have the potential to work just fine and the airways are open, but the muscles never get the signal to breathe. It's generally associated with other serious conditions that affect the brain, especially the lower brain stem. Examples include congestive heart failure, Parkinson's disease, stroke and hypothyroid disease.
Risks and Complications
Probably the most obvious risk you might face with sleep apnea is excessive fatigue, which can interfere with daily activities such as driving or work. It can disrupt your moods, as well. Doctors also worry about the strain not breathing puts on the cardiovascular system. Sleep apnea tends to increase blood pressure due to the drop in oxygen levels, which makes the heart work harder, and which can worsen preexisting heart disease and increase the risk of stroke.
Professionals usually treat obstructive sleep apnea with various air pressure systems, the most common of which is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) system. These require you to wear a mask connected to a machine that keeps the airways open with a stream of air. Other systems simply provide supplemental oxygen. Sometimes other oral devices can help by keeping your throat open.
Surgery is a more severe option. You have several choices within this category, and your doctor will recommend one that's right for you based on the severity and exact cause of the apnea. You might use implants, jaw repositioning or tissue removal. If your sleep apnea is life threatening, you might need to consider a tracheostomy, a procedure in which your surgeon creates a new passageway in your neck for you to breathe through.
Successful sleep apnea treatment often involves addressing underlying conditions. For instance, if your apnea is aggravated by being overweight, then you might need to change your diet and lifestyle or determine if you have a weight-related illness, such as Cushing's syndrome or hypothyroidism. For this reason, it can take some time to get to the root of the issue and start getting relief.
By North Jersey Pulmonary Associates
January 14, 2020