Sleep apnea is when you involuntarily stop breathing while you’re sleeping. When you’re asleep, your tongue and throat sometimes relax and fall, which obstructs your regular breathing for a few seconds. That happens over and over all night long, and the result is, your sleep is disrupted and you’re often chronically exhausted.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common than most people think. About one in every five adults have at some form of obstructive sleep apnea. Though sleep apnea is treatable, most people don’t know they have it.
Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can lead to:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Heart disease
- Atrial fibrillation
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Increase stroke risk
- Loss of productivity
- Cognitive impairment
- Increased risk for automobile crashes
Signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Not waking up feeling refreshed
- Loud habitual snoring
A bed partner who witnesses someone who stops breathing, gasps, or choke at night can help you discover you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Hypertension, a body mass index over 35, and a large neck are considered symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.
Many people are totally unaware they’re having disruptive episodes in their sleep. Others wake up in a panic every few minutes all night. If people are experiencing symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, they should talk with their primary care physician.
After careful screening, many primary care providers may refer at-risk patients to a sleep specialist at a sleep disorders clinic. A sleep test is usually conducted.
Patients meet with a provider who specializes in sleep disorders to further evaluate their risks and discuss the side-effects of untreated apnea. At this point patients select an appropriate sleep test and receive education about obstructive sleep apnea.
Home sleep tests are a good option. Their advantage is that they can be done at home in your own bed. The test kit consists of a belt worn around the chest, a lead wire connected to a finger, and a tube to the nose. The kit stores information and is battery operated.
After diagnosis, you should discuss your treatment options with a sleep specialist. The most common treatment is using CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) equipment while you sleep. A CPAP machine is highly effective. Most people report a marked improvement in their symptoms and quality of sleep. Other treatment options include behavior modification, dental appliances, or surgery. A sleep specialist will provide further information and follow up with continuing treatment and long-term care management.
Getting good sleep is important. Getting a sleep test either in the sleep lab or at home is simple, painless, and can be very effective in helping you get the help you need to get a good night’s sleep every night.