In cartoons, snoring is often associated with a character getting a good night’s sleep. While it’s true that snoring only occurs during sleep, it’s anything but a sign of good bedtime rest. On the contrary, chronic snoring is oftentimes directly linked to sleep apnea, a condition that affects an estimated 18 million Americans. And while snoring itself might seem like a harmless thing, sleep apnea can actually lead to several health issues, including depression, high blood pressure, and stroke.
What’s in a Snore?
A good starting point for understanding sleep apnea is understanding exactly what snoring is. Snoring results from an obstruction of one’s airways during sleep. These airways include the nose, mouth, throat, and windpipe. During normal sleep the airway remains open, allowing oxygen to freely enter the lungs, and carbon dioxide to exit. This normal breathing helps regulate the body’s blood oxygen level. Some people, however, have their airway partially or completely blocked during sleep, causing snoring. The sound of snoring comes from the vibrations of air against the back of one’s throat tissue as it tries to enter and exit the lungs.
How Do the Airways Get Blocked?
There is more than one way for one’s airway to become obstructed. One of the most common causes of sleep apnea comes from being overweight. The more soft fat tissue in the throat, the thicker the windpipe becomes, making it more likely to obstruct the airflow. Another cause is the size of one’s tonsils. Some people are simply born with larger tonsils, or they have tonsils that become inflamed and swollen often, closing off the windpipe. Sleep apnea can also result from improper brain function. In older people especially, the brain can “forget” to send the right signals to the throat muscles to keep them open during sleep.
Why is Sleep Apnea a Problem?
As most of us know, sleep is very important for daily functioning. Physical and mental health rely a great deal on proper sleep. When one has sleep apnea, the body is forced to wake itself up to regain muscle control and reopen its airways. Those with severe sleep apnea might need to wake up several times during the night. This constant interruption of sleep cycles can leave one feeling fatigued throughout the day. These people are also more susceptible to getting headaches, being irritable, and having problems concentrating. If not diagnosed or treated properly, sleep apnea can even lead to stroke and heart failure.
Are There Sleep Apnea Solutions?
There are ways to treat sleep apnea, and they’ve proven to be effective. Probably the most effective and common of these solutions are CPAP machines (CPAP masks). CPAP is an acronym for continuous positive airway pressure. In simple terms, the machine provides air at a consistent rate and pressure that prevents one’s airway from collapsing. The machines hook up to CPAP masks, designed to be worn by the user. These CPAP masks come in a few different types, depending on he preferences and needs of the user. There are nasal masks, nasal pillow masks, and full face CPAP masks.
Of course, the first and most important step to treating any case of sleep apnea is finding out if you suffer from it. Studies indicate that about one in fifty Americans with sleep apnea have an undiagnosed case. These individuals are four times more likely to suffer a stroke than those who are diagnosed, and three times more likely to have some form of heart disease. This is why seeing a doctor regularly is so important. If you’re aware you have a snoring problem, or notice you’re tired and irritable throughout the day, it’s important to notify a doctor to get a proper diagnosis.
Once one is diagnosed with sleep apnea, it’s also key to properly treat oneself. Even those with CPAP machines don’t necessarily use them as much as they’re supposed to. It’s reported that approximately 80% of CPAP users don’t use it enough for proper sleep apnea treatment, and about half of them stop using the machine after a few weeks.
Sleep apnea affects many people, especially men. It’s a serious condition that can lead to severe health problems. It’s best to take sleep apnea seriously and seek treatment if diagnosed.