BENGALURU:It’s been a long day at work and all you want to do is to curl into your bed for a night of well deserved sleep. Eight hours later, it’s not just the early morning sunshine that greets you but a whole list of unwelcome problems; dry throat, sleep deprivation, fatigue and an overall lack of energy and concentration. Be wary, it might just be sleep apnea.
What is it?
Sleep apnea, also known as sleep disordered breathing, is a condition where the upper airway is obstructed and doesn’t allow the easy passage of air through it. When we sleep, the muscle tone decreases and this is normal for everybody. However, for those who suffer from sleep apnea, the decrease in muscle tone is greater.For the body to breathe comfortably, it is essential for the airway to open up again. When the breathing stops, the blood oxygen levels reduce below acceptable levels, which wakes up the afflicted person and makes the brain send signals to the breathing muscles to stiffen up the airway again and resume breathing. If this happens repeatedly in cycles, deep sleep is a near impossibility and the patient feels sleepy and tired whole day.
Why be concerned?
Disturbed sleep automatically implies decreased productivity and lower levels of concentration, making accidents harder to avoid. Unfortunately, the list of problems associated with sleep apnea doesn’t end here.It causes a stress on the cardiovascular system, heightens blood pressure levels and destabilizes the heart rate.All of this stress can lead to heart attacks, strokes, irregular heartbeats, daytime hypertension, and heart failure.
Who are at risk?
Sleep apnea is non-discrimination in terms of the targets it strikes; it can affect anybody. However, people who are old or obese and women going through post-menopause face higher chances of getting affected. As we grow older, our brain signals’ ability to keep the throat muscles stiff during sleep reduces. As for obesity, all the extra soft fat tissue thickens the walls of the windpipes, making the pathway narrow and restricting air flow. Having established this, even those who are thin and tall can fall prey to sleep apnea due to limited throat space because of the way their faces and jaws are structured.
Loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, insomnia, nightmares, abnormal breathing patterns or breathing through the mouth are indicators of this condition, the persistence of which should not be ignored. Depression, dry throat, fatigue, headaches, mood swings, weight gain and irritability complete the big picture.
Is there a way out?
Most of the time, the patient is unaware of his ailment as it occurs while asleep. A partner or a family member is most likely to identify the signs of this condition before the patient does.A common method of diagnosis is through conducting sleep studies which convey the severity of the condition and the number of times the patient stops breathing in an hour. Through this, an estimation of the best possible treatment option is obtained. Any case more than 12-15 times an hour is subject to treatment.
Once diagnosed, the next step is CPAP: Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. CPAP involves the application of a face mask which blows air into the throat and keeps the throat open. While there are other treatment options available (such as surgery and the use of oral appliances), CPAP is most advisable as the other forms are not as effective or do not work well with severe cases of sleep apnea.
Ensuring that you get eight hours of sleep can help maintain a healthy distance between you and sleep apnea as sleep deprivation tends to trigger the problem significantly.
(The author is the director, Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road)