Sleep apnea is perhaps the commonest of all sleep disorders and affects almost 18,000,000 people in the US and yet few people realize the dangers of sleep apnea.
A sleeping disorder characterized by interrupted breathing while sleeping, sleep apnea is also indisputably the most dangerous of sleeping disorders because it deprives the brain of essential oxygen and occasionally proves to be fatal.
There are two quite separate forms of sleep apnea.
Central sleep apnea is basically a neurological condition where breathing is interrupted because of signals sent out by the brain.
Obstructive sleep apnea by contrast is basically a mechanical problem where the windpipe is obstructed either by excessive tissue or as a result of the abnormal collapse or relaxation of the muscles in and around the windpipe.
In either case the results are essentially identical with frequent interruptions to normal breathing that starve the brain of oxygen and place the sufferer at heightened risk from such things as hypertension, stroke and heart attack.
Unluckily, diagnosing sleep apnea can prove difficult because snoring, which is a common symptom and frequently results in sleep apnea being known as the snoring disease, is also often seen as a symptom of several other medical conditions. Snoring is usually seen with sleep apnea because the brain counters a drop in oxygen by waking the sufferer enough to restart the breathing process and this usually gives rise to snoring.
This regular awakening during the night also results in a very poor overall quality of sleep and it is quite common for sufferers to get up in the morning feeling more tired than they were when they got into bed. This also produces feelings of exhaustion during the course of the day and an overwhelming wish to sleep.
However, tiredness resulting from poor quality sleep is only one part of the problem and a range of other symptoms will almost certainly be seen including morning headaches, poor memory and a difficulty in maintaining concentration.
Left untreated the mounting tiredness resulting from sleep apnea may produce serious psychological problems beginning with touchiness and progressing to depression with clear changes in both behavior and mood.
Both central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea are treatable and, providing the condition is caught early enough, this treatment can often be fairly easy. For example, a mild case of obstructive sleep apnea resulting from nasal congestion can generally be treated with little more than decongestants. Similarly, a lot of cases of sleep apnea that are not too severe may be treated with the use of a mask that is worn while sleeping and that delivers air at a constant pressure to keep the airway open. Finally, in the most severe cases of sleep apnea surgery might be required and can be very effective, though it could also produce various complications and needs to be considered with caution.
The Dangers of Sleep Apnea
Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind when treating sleep apnea is that as it carries the potential risk of respiratory failure sufferers ought not to be tempted to take sleeping pills or to use other forms of sleep enhancers without first seeking the approval of a doctor.
Natural sleep remedies can without doubt provide an effective complement to medically prescribed medicines and herbal remedies that are designed to improve both the duration and quality of sleep may well be helpful in the management of the excessive daytime sleepiness often brought on by sleep apnea. Likewise, such things as aromatherapy, chromatherapy and meditation and guided relaxation will help to reduce the anxiety and insomnia that go together with sleep apnea.