How Obstructive Sleep Apnea Can Affect Your Health

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Man Asleep at the Wheel

Living without regular sleep is like operating machinery that hasn’t received maintenance in years. While you can occasionally have a bad night’s sleep and probably be okay, going long periods of time without deep sleep can cause the body unnecessary wear and tear. Chronic obstructive sleep apnea reduces and sometimes stops the airflow entirely during sleep, which prevents you from getting the deep rest that you need to function during the day. This lack of oxygen disrupts the body’s nightly maintenance cycle, which, when sleep apnea is left untreated, can lead to the development of a number of other serious health conditions. Here are ways sleep apnea can affect the body and how treatment may help.

The disruption of the breathing cycle caused by sleep apnea can make toxins to build up in the organs and muscles, increasing the risk for degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is an incurable condition, which affects the central nervous system. It can cause tremors and stiffness in the muscles as well as loss of control of fine movement.

Poor sleep due to sleep apnea also prevents the brain from flushing out toxins or processing stress and new information from the day’s activities. In the short term, this can make dealing with daily frustrations, learning new skills, and remembering recent events difficult. Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can increase the risk for depression, anxiety, and as we age, the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Sleep apnea can also increase the risk for type 2 diabetes and obesity as a chronic lack of sleep slows the metabolism and throws off the hormonal balance. This is a vicious cycle as weight gain can actually make sleep apnea worse by putting more pressure on the windpipe.

In addition to raising the risk of developing these chronic conditions, sleep apnea can affect the ability to safely perform daily tasks. Chronic sleep deprivation disrupts the ability to focus and can cause the brain to slip into periods of microsleep. Microsleeps are brief lapses in consciousness that the person suffering from them doesn’t notice, and they can pose a serious safety threat when they occur during tasks that require concentration, such as driving a car.

Fortunately, chronic obstructive sleep apnea can be treated.

Patients with mild sleep apnea can benefit from making changes in their daily life and sleeping habits to help keep their airways open. These changes can include developing healthy diet and exercise routines to maintain a lower body weight, changing sleeping positions from lying on your back to sleeping on your side to reduce the chances of your airway collapsing, and avoiding alcohol or other sedatives before bed to reduce the risk of you staying unconscious throughout an airway collapse. Mild sleep apnea can also be treated with dental or oral appliances that realign the jaw during sleep, which prevents the tongue or soft palate from collapsing into the airway.

Continuous or Constant Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) machines are one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for sleep apnea when lifestyle changes or oral appliances prove ineffective. These machines use constant airflow to help keep the airway open during sleep.

Those who live with more severe sleep apnea may require advanced surgery that alters the soft tissues to reduce the chances of airway collapse during sleep. These procedures can include palatal reconstruction, tongue advancement, or a midline glossectomy, among others.

If you believe a sleep condition is putting a wrench in your body’s regular maintenance, seeking treatment from a certified sleep specialist is the first step towards a healthier life. Dr. Pasha always focuses on determining the cause behind the sleep problems, starting with a sleep study, and then works with you to develop the best treatment plan for you. Make a commitment to your health, schedule an appointment with us today and stop sleep apnea.