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It’s that time of year: the mercurial heat of Houston summer is slowly giving way to cooler temps while major chain stores are already putting out Christmas decorations. Ah, Halloween, the perfect time to talk about sleep apnea. It may sound like an odd match, but the holiday has more in common with the health condition than you might think. Not only are both scary, they’re both driven by sugar. In this article, we’re going to discuss the not-so-sweet relationship between sugar and sleep apnea and share advice on how to curb your appetite for sweets this Halloween.

Sleep apnea gives all the frights of Halloween with none of the fun. It causes involuntary pauses in breathing while you sleep, quickly followed by a subconscious panic response that rouses you from deep sleep and forces you to gasp for breath, resulting in a loud snoring sound. It’s a living nightmare faced each night and forgotten in the morning by those who suffer from it. 

There are different types of sleep apnea, but the most common is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), caused by a partial or complete collapse of the upper airway. Several studies have found a correlation between obesity and OSA. One study, in particular, found that a mere 10% weight gain made patients six times more likely to develop moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. Fortunately, the reverse is true as well: patients suffering from severe OSA often see drastic improvement in their condition after losing weight.

At the Pasha Snoring and Sinus Center, we understand that health issues are usually the result of underlying causes, which is why we focus on improving our patients’ wellness rather than simply treating their symptoms. For that reason, we have an in-house dietician to help patients navigate the challenges of achieving wellness. Dr. Ellis Morrow is a clinical nutritionist with more than 17 years of experience as a registered dietitian. He specializes in weight management for sleep apnea causes. We asked him for advice on how to enjoy the holiday without sacrificing health. Here’s what he had to say:

Nutritionist’s Advice for Halloween

First thing: don’t be afraid of sugar. The sweet substance is a fact of life; humans love sugar and we have incorporated it into our diet for millennia. The issue faced by so many Americans today is not sugar itself, but our unhealthy relationship with the substance. Many of us abuse it like a drug, which leads to harmful consequences. New studies are revealing that overconsumption of sugar is the leading cause of obesity in the U.S. Specifically, processed foods using refined sugars like candy, soda, and super sweet coffee are to blame. If you want to avoid the unhealthy consequences of sugar overconsumption, such as sleep apnea, the best thing to do is improve your diet.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Unfortunately, overconsumption of sugar has become part of our culture, particularly during the holidays. Despite increased awareness of sugar’s dangers, pressure from the media, ads, and even friends and family persists.

Cut Out Sugar and Sleep Better

Humans are social animals. We don’t like feeling left out. For that reason, quitting cold turkey often leads to cold feet. Rather than cutting out sweets altogether, try limiting your recommended daily sugar intake each day. In the case of Halloween, limit the amount of candy you plan to eat before bed. Once you hit that limit, seek out a healthy alternative such as sweeties or apples.

Candy is empty calories; it provides a spurt of energy, but none of the nutrients we need to keep going. Fruits, or fruit-based snacks, on the other hand, contain natural sugars and are rich in the protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals we need for sustained energy. Once you give low-sugar fruits a chance, you will learn to appreciate the difference. Plus, fruits are delicious! It may take time, and you’ll probably stumble along the way, but try to celebrate each baby step you make toward healthy eating, so you stay encouraged and never give up.

A Healthy Halloween

In addition to limiting sugar intake, there’s another important step you can take toward achieving a healthy lifestyle during the holidays, starting with Halloween: making activities the focus of the celebration rather than food. 

In the recent past, cartoons and advertisements pushed the acquisition of candy as every kids’ primary objective on Halloween night. In a way, that trained us to focus our attention on Trick’ r Treating and candy consumption more than other traditional activities that don’t involve eating.

Halloween Activities for 2020

Halloween as a holiday is older than mass-produced candy. There are innumerable old traditions that have fallen by the wayside, just waiting to be resurrected, and what better day to do that than Halloween? Below are a few examples of fun, safe Halloween activities.

Telling scary stories

This may sound lame to many, but when done properly, this can be the most frightening activity of the night. The key thing to a great storytelling session is that everyone gets involved. If you’re not a great storyteller, there are plenty of ways to tell a better scary story. You can also simply read from a book! Telling stories gives rewards beyond mere frights because it can improve communication skills and even raise confidence levels, especially in kids.

Dancing

Before candy muscled in, dancing was probably the main event each Halloween night. It’s an activity the whole family can get involved in, and once again, it has benefits beyond mere fun, including exercise and the release of endorphins, which reduce stress. Just make sure you have your Halloween playlist queued up and ready.

Carving pumpkins

Express your inner artist by creating a ghoulish monster from fruit. Most carving kits are available at retail outlets like Michael’s, Wal-Mart, or Party City and other carving kits are available online. Roast the seeds for a fun alternative to snacking on candy. More advanced culinary artists can create any number of delicious treats from pumpkin insides. If the kids are too young to use a knife, make scary masks instead. Those are arguably more rewarding because they last longer.

Scavenger hunt (or snipe hunt)

Get those little legs moving with a creepy nighttime scavenger hunt. Prizes aren’t the only way to encourage kids to participate. If you’re feeling a little sadistic, send them out on a snipe hunt: guaranteed fun for everyone. If you don’t know what a snipe is, they’re little feathery creatures that only come out at night. They look like a combination of a squirrel and a bird. Search your backyard tonight to identify their nesting spots in time for Halloween.

Cultivating healthy habits is essential to your overall well-being, and there’s no better time to plant the seeds of a healthy diet than the holidays, when we’re under more pressure than ever to splurge on sugar. Making small lifestyle changes now can prevent health conditions such a sleep apnea from developing in the future.

If you’re suffering from symptoms like daytime sleepiness, lack of concentration, or loud snoring, you may have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea may be a scary condition, but seeking treatment is nothing to fear. Treatments range from weight management and C-PAP machines to dental appliances and in-office procedures. The Pasha Snoring and Sinus Center has been helping Houstonians sleep better for more than 20 years. We didn’t last that long by keeping mad scientists on staff. Our focus is on patient well-being and comfort.

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