The shortest answer to this question is YES, sleep apnea can kill you! That is scary, right? The simplest definition of sleep apnea is multiple breathing pauses during sleep.
It is a serious sleep disorder where an individual`s breathing is frequently interrupted as they sleep. It happens either when the brain forgets to signal the respiratory muscles to breathe causing central sleep apnea, or when the tissues at the back of the throat relax blocking the airway and causing the more common, obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can be fatal since the brain and other organs are exposed to oxygen deprivation. Death through sleep apnea has been linked to other chronic health conditions such as hypertension, heart attacks, and strokes among others.
Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
As I have hinted above, there are different forms of sleep apnea the most common being obstructive sleep apnea. The other 2 are Central Sleep Apnea and Complex Sleep Apnea syndrome that aren’t so common.
The latter, also known as treatment-emergent sleep apnea, occurs when someone has both obstructive and central sleep apnea. For diagnosis, you need to see your doctor or a sleep specialist.
Symptoms that indicate you might have sleep apnea include;
- Loud snoring
- Shortness of breath leading one to awake gasping for air
- Multiple brief awakenings that get reported by someone sleeping next to you
- Frequent headaches in the morning
- Insomnia – Difficulty falling asleep
- Dry mouth in the morning
- Hypersomnia – feeling excessively sleepy and fatigued during the day
- Irritability and difficulty paying attention at work
- A narrow airway- You may have been born with a narrow airway or inherited sleep apnea from your parents. Having a thick neck with fat deposits around the airway can also cause an obstruction which could be due to excess body weight or obesity.
- Male gender- Studies have shown that men are three to four times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than women. The risk is higher in overweight women and those hitting menopause.
- Old age- Sleep apnea can occur to anyone, even little children but it is more common in adults over 40. Some people who have never had symptoms can start having sleep apnea in their old age.
- Alcohol use and cigarette smoking- Alcohol acts as a sedative and may end up relaxing the breathing muscles causing obstructive sleep apnea. Smoking can cause the retention of fluids making the upper parts of the airway to get inflamed and block. This heightens the risk of sleep apnea in smokers by up to three times.
- Health conditions and complications- A congested nose due to an allergic reaction can cause difficulty in breathing because of obstructed airways. Heart disorders such as congestive heart failure can heighten the risk of sleep apnea. Having had a stroke also increases the possibility of central or complex sleep apnea.
How does sleep apnea become deadly?
Sleep apnea can cause premature death due to a heightened risk of having a heart attack, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and work or vehicle accidents. This is why it is paramount for anyone suffering from sleep apnea to seek help.
High blood pressure– Sleep apnea makes the levels of oxygen in the blood to drop, which in turn drops the pressure of your blood. The cardiovascular system gets strained causing hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. One wakes up with difficulties in breathing and shortness of breath.
Heart attack – irregular or abnormal heartbeats, together with recurring low oxygen in the blood due to obstructive sleep apnea and heart disease, can increase the possibility of a stroke or a heart attack.
Type 2 diabetes – you are at a higher risk of developing insulin resistance which causes type 2 diabetes if you frequently experience sleep apnea.
Increased risk of accidents and irritation –frequent body fatigue caused by continuous lack of enough sleep and rest can trigger drowsiness and sleepiness during the day rendering one unproductive. It also leaves you feeling exceedingly irritable and prone to work or road accidents since you are unable to pay proper attention to details.
Treatment and How to deal with Sleep Apnea
Since sleep apnea affects the quality of our lives and puts us in danger of premature death, you`ll agree that something must be done to avoid these fatal consequences. Treatment will help you become more alert, increase your endurance and performance, and help you avoid those accidents that are otherwise common to sleep apnea patients.
Sleep on your side
Although sleeping on your back is the best position for anyone, it might not be the best if you suffer from snoring or sleep apnea. Sleeping on your side helps prevent obstruction of the airway hence, minimizing chances of experiencing obstructive sleep apnea. Lie on your stomach or raise your head with a pillow to help keep your airways open. Train yourself to sleep on the side if it is not your natural sleeping position.
Wearing a snoring mouthpiece
Snoring is the most common symptom of sleep apnea. It can be unhealthy for a relationship especially a romantic one. A partner to someone who snores may end up having little to no sleep which may affect their daily productivity.
In some cases, partners end up sleeping in separate bedrooms which can take a toll in their relationship. Instead of compromising your partners sleep quality, wear a mouthpiece to cancel snoring and help reduce such outcomes.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is the treatment of choice and has been proven to significantly reduce the risks of sleep apnea. The individual wears a ventilator mask that applies continuous positive pressure to his/her breathing and recruits more surface area in the lungs for ventilation.
The individual has to initiate breathing and the device only helps apply mild pressure to keep the airways open. With the latest technology, individuals can now monitor their nightly data on their smartphones or computers.
Snoring, although being a common symptom for sleep apnea, does not necessarily mean you have it. However, having all multiple of the above-mentioned symptoms is an indication that you may need to visit your doctor or a sleep specialist for proper diagnosis. Put yourself out of the possible danger of premature death by seeking treatment for your sleep apnea and improve the quality of your life and of those around you.