In our always-on-the-go world, few of us get enough sleep. Yet many people also suffer from a serious condition called sleep apnea. Sleep is as critical to healthy living as diet and exercise. Lack of sleep affects your mood and memory, and can lead to depression and cardiovascular issues. Here are five things you should know about sleep apnea:
Don't sleep on the warning signs
The main symptom of sleep apnea is hard to miss: loud snoring. But there are others to watch for. Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you stop breathing for a few seconds overnight, suddenly choking or gasping for air? Are you tired even after a full night’s rest? Do you fall asleep at odd times—in meetings, in class, on the train—and feel fatigued all day? If you or your partner notice these signs, talk to a doctor.
Your throat is to blame
As you go into deep sleep, your jaw and tongue muscles relax. But if your throat isn’t wide enough, those muscles block your breathing airway and limit oxygen intake, which wakes you up.
It's more common than you think
If 42 million Americans have some form of disordered sleep breathing, maybe there’s a reason everyone is so tired all the time. Among US adults between the ages of 30 and 70, 26 percent are estimated to have obstructive sleep apnea, and 75 percent of cases go undiagnosed. And the numbers are rising due to increasing obesity rates.
There are treatment options
The most common—and most successful—treatment is called CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), a device that blows air under pressure and pushes soft tissues aside during sleep. For those with mild sleep apnea, a dental device can be used to open the airway. Some patients may also be candidates for surgery, where more space is created in the back of the throat to help you breathe.
Obesity is a concern
Weight gain can exacerbate symptoms as an increase in fat around the throat makes the airway that much smaller. In fact, the majority of sleep apnea patients are overweight, making weight loss an important part of the treatment plan.
Wake up to better health
Our Center for Sleep Medicine takes a multidisciplinary approach to sleep apnea, bringing together a team of pulmonologists, neurologists, dentists and psychologists specializing in sleep disorders to form a comprehensive plan for your health. To make an appointment, call 617-636-6377 or visit tuftsmedicalcenter.org/sleep.