Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops for brief episodes (10 – 20 seconds) during sleep. This can happen multiple times throughout the night. The sufferer will usually not be aware of the episodes but may partially wake while struggling to breathe.
There are two types of sleep apnea – obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by the soft tissue in the back of the throat relaxing and obstructing the airways and central sleep apnea which is more rare and associated with the function of the central nervous system.
Symptoms can include daytime sleepiness, fatigue, morning headaches, loud snoring, low libido, poor judgement, behaviour changes, irritability, anxiety, and depression.
More major problems associated with sleep apnea can be hypertension, coronary artery disease, stroke, cognitive dysfunction, memory loss and even death.
It is far more common in men (particularly those over 40) and in people who are over-weight.
Treatments for sleep apnea firstly include lifestyle changes such as:
– losing weight – this can greatly reduce the number of times a person stops breathing.
– improving the diet.
-getting more exercise.
– avoiding alcohol.
– avoiding medications that cause muscle relaxation.
– stopping smoking.
– sleeping on your side – sometimes a pillow designed to aid side sleeping can help.
Medical help such as:
– mandibular devices – can help in mild to moderate cases.
– CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mechanical breathing assistance in more serious cases.
Both herbal and sleep facilitating nutrients can be very useful in improving sleep patterns.
These can not only improve the symptoms of poor sleep, but can also help take care of other underlying health problems.
They need to be used in conjunction with the lifestyle changes mentioned above, especially weight loss.
See page on ‘Sleep problems’.