When was the last time you woke up in the morning feeling refreshed, alert, and ready to jump right into your day? If you can’t remember, you’re probably not getting enough sleep.
When your nightly rest is interrupted often, your body doesn’t have enough time to do things like repair muscle tissue or properly regulate your hormones. Besides leaving you feeling perpetually drained, a continual lack of sleep can also impact your health.
This is especially true when your sleep loss is the result of an underlying medical problem like sleep apnea, a chronic and potentially dangerous disorder that occurs when your airway becomes obstructed, causing momentary pauses in respiration that disrupt your sleep cycle.
If you’re among the 18 million adults in the United States who’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, finding the best treatment solution is about much more than getting a good night’s rest—it’s about protecting your long-term health. Here’s why you shouldn’t put it off.
Sleep apnea basics
Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that causes your breathing to slow down or pause regularly during sleep. As your brain recognizes a lack of oxygen, it stimulates respiration, causing the kind of partial awakening that disrupts your sleep cycle. Lasting just a few seconds or longer than a minute, these spontaneous breathing pauses can occur dozens of times in a single hour.
There are three main types of sleep apnea:
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
The most common form of the disorder, OSA occurs when the muscles in your airway relax and partially collapse, causing your respiration to pause repeatedly. Loud, chronic snoring is often a tell-tale sign of OSA.
Central sleep apnea (CSA)
CSA, a less common form of the condition, occurs when your brain fails to properly signal the airway and chest muscles that control respiration. Unlike OSA, snoring is not a typical symptom of CSA.
Complex sleep apnea syndrome
Also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, this form of the disorder develops when someone has both OSA and CSA.
Sleep apnea and your health
Besides partially waking you numerous times throughout the night, sleep apnea can give rise to insomnia-like symptoms that make it harder to fall back to sleep.
It’s not unusual for people with untreated sleep apnea to experience the kind of extreme daytime fatigue, drowsiness, or inability to focus that makes it hard to stay awake at work and increases their risk of having a car accident. In fact, people with untreated sleep apnea are three times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle collision.
As if these day-to-day health risks weren’t worrisome enough, untreated sleep apnea also increases your chances of developing a variety of serious long-term health problems, including:
Sleep apnea prevents normal oxygen intake, causing a decrease in blood oxygen levels. This requires your cardiovascular system to work harder than normal to circulate blood, which can lead to high blood pressure. One in two adults with sleep apnea also has high blood pressure.
Because sleep apnea puts significant strain on your cardiovascular system, it increases your risk of developing a variety of heart problems, ranging from heart disease to recurrent heart attacks. It also increases your risk of having a stroke.
If you already have heart disease, low blood oxygen caused by untreated sleep apnea can actually give rise to an irregular heartbeat and lead to sudden death.
Type 2 diabetes
Sleep apnea has been linked to glucose intolerance as well as insulin resistance, both of which are major precursor conditions for type 2 diabetes.
Fatty liver disease
Research shows that people with long-term untreated sleep apnea are more likely to develop nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that can cause liver scarring and poor liver function.
Sleep apnea treatment solutions
Because sleep apnea can have a real impact on your energy levels, mood, and ability to function each day—and because it can also have a devastating effect on your long-term health—prompt treatment is vital.
Mild OSA can often be treated with an oral appliance designed to keep your jaw in a position that helps maintain an open airway. Losing weight, quitting smoking, and avoiding alcohol before bedtime can also be helpful.
Moderate to severe OSA usually responds best to continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This therapy involves using a device that opens your airway by applying a small amount of positive pressure, which is delivered through a nasal mask as you sleep. Surgery to create a more open airway is only recommended if CPAP therapy and other conservative solutions don’t work as desired.
If you’re ready to get your sleep apnea under control, call your Florida Ear Nose Throat & Facial Plastic Surgery Center office in Orlando or Kissimmee, Florida today, or use the easy online tool to book an appointment with Dr. Han and his team any time.