Tips on Handling Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which one experiences temporary stops in breathing or shallow breathing during sleep. Each pause is called an apnea and can occur up to 100 times a night and can last anywhere from a few seconds to up to a minute. These episodes can occasionally cause damage to the body and will prevent the peron experiencing them from getting a full night’s rest.

Now because sleep apnea occurs while a person is unconscious, they may not be aware they even have it. This disorder can affect children as well as adults.  Patients typically experience daytime sleepiness/fatigue, vision problems, poor concentration and a slower reaction time. Sleep apnea causes you to remain more in a light sleep and prevents you from moving into that deep sleep that really makes you feel like you got some good rest.

Do I have sleep apnea?
If you are wondering how to tell if you have sleep apnea or not, there are a few things you can take note of. A couple of the major symptoms you might experience are loud, chronic snoring and choking, snorting or gasping while asleep.  Usually a loved one will tell you if you are experiencing these symptoms because your loud noises are preventing them from resting completely too. Other common signs to look out for are going to the bathroom frequently throughout the night, morning headaches, waking up with a dry mouth or feeling like your out of breath, insomnia and moodiness (being a pain in the butt).

Keep in mind that not everyone who snores has sleep apnea and not everyone who has sleep apnea snores. Snoring doesn’t hinder the quality of sleep you get like sleep apnea tends to do, so if you are constantly feeling tired throughout the day even if you went to bed at a decent time, you may have sleep apnea. As a doctor who treats people for neurological problems, I will tell you that these apnea episodes are depriving your brain of much needed oxygen which is why you are getting many of these symptoms in the first place.  Your brain needs two things: fuel and activation. Fuel in the form of glucose and oxygen and activation in the form of stimulation. Lack of oxygen to your brain will cause a host of other problems.  Just read my blog post, “Why I Like Oxygen Enhanced Exercise?” to learn more.

Self-treatment tricks
While those with moderate to severe sleep apnea should consult a doctor specifically trained in sleep disorders to figure out the best treatment for them, I believe that those with mild to moderate sleep apnea can work on the problem themselves…and then if these things don’t work…consult an expert.
About 70% of patients with this disorder are overweight or obese so one of the best things you can do is lose weight. When I was in chiropractic school, I coined the phrase “fattypnea” because I use to deliver breathing equipment to these people when I was in college at the University of South Florida. I saw a ton of overweight patients who had sleep apnea.  I didn’t come up with the term in a derogatory fashion but there wasn’t a medical term to describe it.  One of my professors who was an oncologist (cancer doctor) actually began using the term after that on a regular basis…but I digress. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, there have been a few formal studies “of how effectively weight loss leads to lesser, lighter snoring and diminished incidents of apnea and hypopnea during sleep.”
•If you are a smoker, quit smoking cigarettes! Not only for your apnea but for all the other health benefits, you should stomp these out of your life. Stogies and cigs increase inflammation and fluid retention in your throat and upper airways, which are known to contribute to sleep apnea.
•Next, you should avoid drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol can slow your respiratory system which can create sleep apnea.
Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Your apnea breakouts should decrease as you get more and better sleep. A routine generally helps with better sleep habits. Whether you have sleep apnea or not, a regular sleep schedule is good for everyone.

Preparing for bedtime
There are also a couple things you can do before dozing off for the night that could help you reduce the number of sleep apnea episodes you experience.
Sleep on your side. When we sleep on our backs, our tongues may slip back into our airways, blocking our airway thus causing difficulty breathing. It is sometimes difficult to stay in the same position all night, I tend to flop around frequently myself, so try and place an uncomfortable object on or behind your back so if you happen to roll onto your back, you will not stay like that for long.
Elevate your head with pillows. Propping up a few inches off the mattress will help to open your airways in contrast with laying flat on your back.  Just make sure the pillow extends to the upper part of your shoulder blades so you don’t cause neck problems while fixing your apnea.
Keep your airways open. Get some Breathe Right strips, saline nasal spray or a neti pot to aid you in this process. This should help you have an easier time breathing as you sleep.

So give these tips a try and see if you can eliminate sleep apnea on your own. Having a partner who can monitor your breathing at night can help you see if these techniques are working. You may notice they aren’t as sleepy and in a better mood which may be a sign it’s working too. If not, your doctor can recommend a local sleep lab which can help you get properly diagnosed and prescribe the proper medical equipment to facilitate your oxygen flow while you sleep. For the average patient with sleep apnea, just knowing the right techniques can help solve your problem.

Here’s to better sleep!

Dr. Sean Stringer, D.C.

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