Do you wake up exhausted? Does your partner complain about your snoring? You may be one of up to 6% of people who suffer from sleep apnea 1 – in obese people that number is 77% 2 – and you may not know you have it.
Sleep apnea (also known as sleep apnoea) is a condition where the pharyngeal muscles in the back and sides of your throat relax so much when you sleep that your breathing is blocked for a few moments. When this happens, your brain notices a lack of oxygen in your blood, wakes you up just enough for your conscious mind to tense the muscles and take a breath. Then you fall into a deeper sleep again and the cycle continues – usually without you even noticing.
Early detection of your sleep apnea means that it can be treated before it damages your health, relationship or work performance.
The end result of sleep apnea is that you may suffer from a lack of sleep and oxygen, and wake up exhausted. Your partner may also complain about your snoring. Some sleep apnea sufferers find themselves falling asleep at work or while driving.
It is normal to stop breathing, wake a little, breathe and fall into a deeper sleep again.
Everyone does it occasionally, however when it happens more than five times per hour, you have sleep apnea. In severe cases it can happen more than 30 times per hour.
Sleep apnea occurs in all age groups – including newborn babies – but is most common in people over 50 years old and people who are overweight3. It is also more common in men than women4. Other physical characteristics that may predispose you to sleep apnea are large tonsils, a small nose, some thyroid conditions and nasal congestion. Also, drinking alcohol or taking sedatives or sleeping pills before sleep can relax your throat and make your sleep apnea worse.
Sleep apnea has a range of symptoms. Consult your doctor if you experience more than two or three of these symptoms:
People who suffer from sleep apnea often suffer from other conditions associated with, and possibly caused by, sleep apnea.
By treating your sleep apnea, you may also be able to reduce the severity of, or risk of suffering from7,8,9,10: