By Tyler Bertroche, MD
Good sleep is key to a lot of things – your overall health, your level of energy, your ability to focus – even your mood!
Most people struggle with some sleep issues at some point in their life. But nearly 25 million adults in the United States experience sleep apnea, a dangerous condition if left untreated.
What is sleep apnea, exactly?
Sleep apnea occurs when your air flow is decreased or completely blocked during sleep, so less oxygen is getting into your lungs. Left untreated, it can slowly degrade your health.
“Breathing difficulties during sleep can result in not getting restful sleep or frequently waking up from sleep,” says Tyler Bertroche, MD, an ENT surgeon and sleep expert at The Iowa Clinic West Lakes Sleep Center.
“That ultimately leads to a lot of stress on the body, heart and lungs. Heart disease, stroke, diabetes and all these chronic illnesses can come to the forefront.”
What causes it?
Many risk factors have to do with your body and anatomy. Anything that restricts your airways can cause sleep apnea: a deviated septum, congestion and swelling that prevents air from getting to the nose, enlarged tonsils or the size and positioning of your tongue or soft palate.
Size plays a big factor outside the body as well. Being overweight is the leading cause of obstructive sleep apnea. Other causes like smoking, the sedative effects of alcohol and some medications, or even family history can lead to blockages that cause sleep apnea.
So how do I know if I have sleep apnea?
Most people learn they have sleep apnea from a partner or family member. They’re told that they snore heavily, choke, sleep with their mouth open, gasp for air or are restless sleepers.
But Dr. Bertroche says, “It can be a lot of different things. Fatigue. A headache when waking up in the morning. Dozing off when you’re in the car or in a dark room watching a movie.”
If you experience any of these symptoms often, they could be the result of sleep apnea:
- Sore or dry throat and headaches in the morning
- Sleepiness during the day or while driving
- Mood swings
- Low libido
What options do I have?
Treating obstructive sleep apnea is often easy and varies from lifestyle changes like weight loss, switching sleep positions or quitting smoking to the use of CPAP and BIPAP machines, which push air into your mouth and nose to help keep your airways open while you sleep.
So whether you’ve noticed signs of sleep apnea or are just notorious for snoring or breathing with your mouth open as you catch your Zzs, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss whether a sleep study is right for you.
Better sleep (and better health!) could be right around the corner.