As men reach middle age they are faced with a variety of health factors. From heart disease to diabetes, and prostate cancer to erectile dysfunction, maintaining a healthy lifestyle requires closer attention to one's health than when they were younger. Unfortunately, not everyone follows the guidelines given to them by their doctor, and many medical issues can go unnoticed for years. One of the most common yet frequently undiagnosed medical issues middle aged men face is sleep apnea.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that consists of pauses in breathing during sleep that involves the sleeping person missing one or more breaths repeatedly throughout night. The shortness of breath can cause low blood oxygen saturation and increased neurological activity, which can lead to daytime sleepiness and fatigue due to the lack of restful sleep.
There are three different forms of sleep apnea: Central, Obstructive, and Complex. Central Sleep Apnea is an interruption of breathing caused by a lack of effort while Obstructive Sleep Apnea is caused by a physical block to airflow despite effort. In Complex, or "Mixed" Sleep Apnea, there is a transition from Central to Obstructive during the breathing interruptions themselves. The three types of SA can be diagnosed by your doctor using an overnight sleep test called a polysomnogram and by measuring blood oxygen levels.
Individuals with sleep apnea are rarely aware that they are having difficulty breathing at night. It is usually recognized as a problem by others actually witnessing the interruptions in breathing or suspected because of the effects on the body. Those with severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea will typically fall asleep for brief periods during normal daily activity if given the opportunity to rest. Other signs include loud snoring with periods of silence followed by gasps, morning headaches, trouble concentrating, increased heart rate, anxiety, depression, and heavy night sweating.
Who is at risk?
Those who have decreased muscle tone, increased soft tissue around the airway, and structural features that cause a narrow airway are at high risk for obstructive sleep apnea. Because of the differences in body structure (the anatomy of the male body is typified by increased body mass in the torso and neck), women typically suffer from sleep apnea much less frequently than men, but both sexes are at high risk if they are obese.
How is Sleep Apnea treated?
Doctors recommend a variety of treatments based on the individual case and cause of the sleep interruptions. In cases where obstructions are created by inflammation of the adenoids or tonsils, the apnea can be treated by anti-inflammatories or surgical removal, but that primarily applies to children. Surgical procedures are available to remove and tighten tissue and widen the airway, but the success rate of these surgeries is not high.
In many cases sleep apnea can be treated with lifestyle changes such as losing weight, stopping smoking, and avoiding alcohol and medications that relax the central nervous system, such as sedatives and muscle relaxants. Some people use special pillows and devices to help them keep from sleeping on their backs, such as the Sleep Posture Pillow and the Better Sleep Pillow.
In many cases, doctors will recommend continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. When using a CPAP machine, the sleep apnea sufferer wears a special mask attached to a machine that blows pressurized air through the airway to keep it open. The level of air pressure is prescribed by a physician. While some patients are reluctant to use this form of therapy because the machine and mask look clumsy and uncomfortable, the difference in sleep quality can usually be felt after one night of use.
The first step is to see a doctor
Restless nights can lead to fatigue and sleepiness, which is dangerous whether you are at work or behind the wheel of your car. If you find you are not getting a good night's sleep, or your spouse is complaining of unusually loud snoring, talk to your doctor about sleep apnea. If he prescribes use of a CPAP machine, check out the AEIOMed Everest 2 - you will enjoy the convenience, functionality, and price.