Typically a chronic, or ongoing, condition, sleep apnea involves frequent pauses in your breathing while you sleep.
It is a common medical condition that can have a big impact on the quality of your life.
These pauses can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, often occurring many times per hour.
The end result is that your body isn’t getting the rest it needs because these pauses interrupt your deep sleeping phases, forcing you into more shallow, less restful sleep patterns. That means you can feel excessively sleepy during the daytime.
And when left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to much more serious health problems, including an increased risk of heart attacks and heart failure.
If you think you or a loved one has sleep apnea, here are some steps to take.
Get a Diagnosis
The first thing to do is get a professional diagnosis from a properly licensed doctor. While your family doctor may be able to recommend a course of action or refer you to a specialist, sleep disorders usually can’t be detected in an ordinary office visit.
It’s a good idea to look for a medical professional who specializes in sleep disorders as soon as you suspect it’s a problem.
Usually this will involve an overnight stay — and perhaps several nights — in a sleep center where your body can be carefully monitored to pinpoint the cause of your sleep disorder. While sleep apnea is quite common, your restless sleep could be due to many other factors, including insomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome or various behavioral and mental causes, such as sleepwalking or depression.
Choosing a Sleep Center
If you suspect you might have sleep apnea, you should look for a sleep center that combines two seemingly opposite attributes: an advanced, state-of-the-art medical facility and a comfortable, home-like atmosphere.
Ask about the people and technology that will be monitoring your body during your stay at the sleep center. You should know exactly what to expect and what the process will be like — a completely painless experience in most cases.
Just as important, though, you should look for a sleep center that can make you feel as comfortable as possible. To discover the root causes of the sleep problems you’re experiencing at home, it can be a good idea to mimic the routines and comfort you experience in your own bedroom.
The best sleep centers will have advanced medical technology carefully hidden in a comfortable, home-like setting.
Obstructive or Central
There are two main categories of sleep apnea — obstructive and central — that have quite different causes. A professional sleep center will be able to give you the right diagnosis.
Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type, involves the airway becoming blocked or collapsing while you sleep, causing you to take very shallow breaths or even completely stop breathing for a period of time. It can also involve loud snoring in some patients.
While the obstructive form of sleep apnea is more common in people who are overweight, other people can suffer from it, too.
Central sleep apnea, in comparison, doesn’t involve any kind of blockage in the airway. It happens because of a problem in your central nervous system where the brain’s signals don’t reach your breathing muscles correctly, causing you to stop breathing at times in your sleep.
Central sleep apnea can occur alone or in conjunction with obstructive sleep apnea, and it’s more common in people who are taking certain medications or who have certain medical conditions already. But it can also occur in anyone, regardless of medications and medical history.
No matter what the cause, it’s important to get a proper, professional diagnosis for any sleeping disorder you think you’re experiencing so that you know what steps to take to manage it.
Depending on your diagnosis and situation, there are a wide range of treatments available. From simple lifestyle changes to breathing devices like CPAP machines, mouthpieces and surgery, the exact treatment will need to be tailored for your own medical needs as determined by your doctor.
Since the risks of untreated sleep apnea can be serious — including high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, heart failure or heart arrhythmias and a higher risk of accidents at work or behind the wheel of a vehicle — it’s important to treat your sleep problems at an early stage.
Choosing the right professionals at the right sleep center can be a great first step toward a healthier, more rested lifestyle.