Several years ago, at the request of my dear wife, I got tested for sleep apnea, and it probably saved my life. She had patiently endured my snoring, but as a nurse, she was disturbed by the increasing frequency of episodes when I appeared to stop breathing – as well as my increasing weight gain and levels of fatigue and irritability. So off to the sleep center I went…
In case you aren’t familiar with this condition, apnea means “no breath,” and obstructive sleep apnea is the periodic stoppage of breathing while asleep. It is caused by a partial or complete blockage of the airway by the tissues in the back of the throat. Oxygen levels in the blood drop and carbon dioxide rises, waking you up just enough to start breathing, but not enough to be aware of the feeling of terror that comes with not being able to breathe. For those who have severe sleep apnea, the result is you wake up feeling exhausted, perhaps covered in sweat and often with a dry mouth and sore throat.
People who suffer with even mild sleep apnea get sleepy during the day, and it’s no wonder. This continuous arousal prevents them from getting adequate rapid eye movement (REM) sleep—the deepest, most rejuvenating and essential level of sleep.
During my evaluation for sleep apnea, I had 110 attacks of apnea (spells when I stopped breathing for 10 seconds or longer) in one hour. Not a good thing! My oxygen level was low, and I got virtually no restorative REM sleep.
Sleep Apnea Is Catastrophic to Your Overall Health
A ton of research reveals links between sleep deprivation and a broad range of health concerns. In addition to making you exhausted and cranky, poor sleep can trash your memory and mood, make you gain weight, raise your blood pressure and blood sugar, stress your immune system, increase your risk of diabetes, stroke, heart attack, and dementia.
Sleep apnea can set off a cascading nightmare of deteriorating health that spirals out of control before you know it. The combination of deprivation of REM sleep plus other ill effects of sleep apnea (such as significant drops in oxygen levels in the blood, fluctuations in hormone levels, and elevations in blood pressure, heart rate, and cardiac output) wreaks havoc on the body.
Lower blood oxygen levels in men who have severe sleep apnea slows testosterone production in the testes, resulting in weight gain, loss of energy and stamina, impaired focus and motivation and even lead to chronic anxiety or depression.
According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, people with sleep apnea have three times the risk of developing high blood pressure as those without this sleep problem. Sleep apnea is also an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease and stroke. These conditions are associated with increased levels of oxidative stress, C-reactive protein, and clotting factors, and all of these are elevated in people with sleep apnea. Cardiac arrhythmias and congestive heart failure are also much more common among sleep apnea sufferers.
It is said that 1 in 5 Americans suffer from sleep apnea to some degree. There is also a significant relationship between sleep apnea, elevated blood sugar and insulin, and insulin resistance. Severe sleep apnea is associated with a five-fold increased risk of diabetes. Obesity, a related condition, is also associated with sleep apnea, although the exact relationship is harder to understand since obesity is often a primary cause of sleep apnea as well. Erectile problems, immune dysfunction, memory loss and concentration difficulties… the list of problems associated with sleep apnea goes on and on.
The Most Effective Sleep Apnea Treatment
When I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, I immediately began using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which is a device worn at night that delivers a steady stream of air to keep the airways open. I couldn’t believe how much it improved my quality of life. Some people complain that their CPAPs or APAPs (an automatic version of CPAP) are uncomfortable, and they do take some getting used to.
Since I started using this sleep apnea treatment, I’ve slept without my CPAP machine only rarely, and not by choice. I may occasionally forget to pack something, but I (almost) never forget my CPAP because I am so convinced of the tremendous benefits offered by a good night’s sleep.
Automatic and continuous positive airway pressure (APAP and CPAP) machines are hands down the best-studied and most effective treatment for sleep apnea. Attempting to lose weight without a CPAP is very difficult because each episode of apnea releases stress hormones that promote weight gain. Although I’ve been using this therapy myself for years and have never had any problems, I do understand that not everyone tolerates it so well. For me, I found that a small mask covering only my nose worked much better than a full face mask.
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, compliance rates hover around 60 percent, and mask discomfort and nasal issues are common roadblocks. However, because sleep apnea has such serious adverse effects on your health, the benefits of treatment far outweigh the discomforts of the therapy. That’s why, if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea and prescribed APAP or CPAP, you need to work with your doctor to try different masks, a humidifier, and other potential solutions before giving up on it.
Secondary Treatments for Sleep Apnea
I wish there was a proven alternative to CPAP/APAP for those who simply cannot tolerate this sleep apnea treatment. Oral appliances, dental interventions, surgical procedures, and positional therapies are certainly worth a try, but can’t guarantee results. That being said, everyone with sleep apnea can and should use natural therapies to address underlying health problems such as thyroid insufficiency, insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome.
Almost everyone with sleep apnea will benefit from losing weight. In fact, adequate weight loss will completely eliminate the condition in many, and losing 20 to 30 pounds will result in significant improvements. Avoiding alcohol may also be helpful. This is especially true for individuals with mild cases, who may snore and have episodes of apnea only after having a drink. Taking sedatives or analgesics at bedtime can have similar effects, so getting off such drugs may help.
Research published in 2009 suggested that specific throat exercises can help by preventing airway collapse during sleep, resulting in better sleep, less snoring, a significant reduction in neck circumference, and an overall decrease in sleep apnea.
Here are a few of the exercises you can do on your own:
1) Repeat the vowels (A, E, I, O, U) over and over again exaggerating enunciation.
2) Do multiple long, drawn-out yawning movements, opening your mouth wide and tightening the muscles in the back of your throat.
3) Push your tongue up against the back of your front teeth, slowly run it back over the roof of your mouth as far as you can, then slide the tongue back to its original position against the front teeth. Per the study, about 30 minutes daily of these and similar exercises, which can be done throughout the day, are required for maximum benefits.
Bottom Line: Sleep Apnea is Deadly if Left Untreated!
If you snore, are overweight, and/or have metabolic syndrome, you need to get tested for sleep apnea. If you are or have been diagnosed with this condition, try the CPAP/APAP treatments, start an exercise and weight loss regimen, and take supplements that naturally address some of the underlying issues associated with it. Dramatic changes in sleep apnea symptoms are usually seen in patients losing a mere 10-15% of their body weight as fat.
Logos Nutritionals offers several supplements that can be tremendously helpful. First, for those who need to safely lose weight, MagnifiThin is a wonderful aid to boost metabolism and curb your appetite. For those battling with insulin resistance or Metabolic Syndrome, FitCose 1C is a remarkable breakthrough blood sugar support formula. Last but certainly not least, Sleep Advance has proven to be a superior solution for calming the mind and promoting deep, restful sleep.
Finally, to learn everything you ever wanted to know about sleep, read this very informative article.