By Jennifer Sellers
Many of us go through our days tired and run down, often assuming it’s because we’re overworked, overstressed or just getting older. While it’s true there are many potential reasons why a person might not feel his or her best, there’s a common cause that’s often overlooked: sleep apnea.
What exactly is sleep apnea?
“People tend to think snoring is just snoring, but it may be a symptom of sleep apnea,” said Elliot N. Exar, MD, pulmonologist with Asheville Pulmonology and medical director of the Mission Sleep Center. “It’s important to take it seriously.”
Sleep apnea is caused by a partially or completely blocked airway during sleep. A person with sleep apnea will stop breathing repeatedly during sleep for at least 10 seconds at a time. Over time, this increases that person’s risk of cardiovascular conditions like heart attacks, atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure.
Anyone can develop sleep apnea, but some people are at higher risk than others. Men and people over age 65 are more likely to have the sleep disorder. So are people who have high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes or obesity.
When to be concerned – What are the symptoms?
- Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Restless during sleep
- Sudden awakenings with a sensation of gasping or choking
- Dry mouth or sore throat upon awakening
- Intellectual impairment, such as trouble concentrating, forgetfulness or irritability
- Night sweats
- Sexual dysfunction
What are the solutions?
There are two primary ways to address poor sleep, and they go hand in hand. First, consider lifestyle changes that will positively impact your sleep health. It can be very helpful to quit smoking and ensure you’re properly managing any existing health conditions.
But one of the most important things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep is to lose weight. Studies have shown that even a 10 percent loss in body weight can lead to a noticeable reduction in sleep apnea symptoms. In addition, weight loss can help a person better control conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, which are risk factors for sleep apnea.
While lifestyle changes are important, it’s still essential to have your sleep evaluated if you suspect you have sleep apnea. So even if you’re losing weight, you should also take the second step of a sleep study. “This will allow us to evaluate the severity of the sleep apnea or identify other sleep issues that may be going on,” said Dr. Exar. “Some people need additional therapies or treatment to get their sleep disorder under control.”
“When a person’s sleep apnea is corrected by a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, he or she can sometimes experience a dramatic increase in energy and vitality,” said Dr. Exar. “Often, these improvements can be noticed within a matter of weeks.”
Elliot N. Exar, MD, is a pulmonologist with Asheville Pulmonology and medical director of the Mission Sleep Center.
A physician referral for a sleep study isn’t always necessary, but may be required for some services. However, it’s always recommended that you speak with your primary care doctor first. If you’d like more information or would like to schedule a sleep evaluation, call (828) 213-4670.