You may blame that daily fatigue on not being a morning person, but that fatigue may come from sleep apnea. If so, you’d just be another in the estimated 30 million people who unknowingly suffer from sleep apnea in the U.S.
What’s it all about? Sleep apnea is a disorder where your breathing repeatedly stops and starts as you sleep. The most common type, called obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when your throat muscles relax.
You sound like a freight train! Snoring tops the symptom list for sleep apnea. “But someone who doesn’t snore and who repeatedly wakes up unrefreshed after getting adequate sleep may need an evaluation,” says Stuart Padove, MD, with Princeton Sleep Medicine in Birmingham. Other signs could be daytime fatigue, abrupt awakenings, having trouble staying asleep, or waking up with a sore throat, dry mouth or headache.
This is only a test. “There is no way to be sure whether someone has sleep apnea or not without testing,” says Dr. Padove. Fortunately, this test requires you to just sleep. “We measure the electrical activity of the brain while you’re asleep, along with your eye movements, nasal and air passage flow, and chin muscle activity.”
Yes, we said chin muscle. “Chin muscles help us look for REM sleep,” says Dr. Padove. Because during that deeper stage of sleep, your chin muscles become paralyzed.
The mask. The most common treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask. “A compressor blows air through a mask to your nose and mouth into the back of the airway,” says Dr. Padove. “That stabilizes the airway, so it does not collapse as you sleep.”
It’s actually serious. “Newer studies indicate that sleep apnea can lead to dementia if untreated,” warns Dr. Padove. With sleep apnea, your risk for high blood pressure also becomes two to three times greater.
But the good news is… “If you treat your sleep apnea, your hypertension will likely improve, along with your glucose tolerance in diabetics,” says Dr. Padove. Not to mention your own improved alertness and the relief of anyone else in the house disturbed by your nightly rumbling.
by Jane Ehrhardt