What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common and potentially dangerous sleep disorder. It occurs when breathing repeatedly stops for 10 or more seconds while you are sleeping. Those who suffer from it may not wake during these episodes of stopped breathing, which makes it hard to diagnose. This disruption to your sleep negatively impacts the quality of sleep you're getting. The pause in breathe means that oxygen is not making its way to your brain like it should. This can affect your ability to focus and your energy levels when you're awake.

If you have this sleep disorder, you likely have symptoms during both the day and the night. During the night, you may snore loudly and sleep restlessly. When you wake up, you'll feel tired and find it difficult to concentrate on daily tasks. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include falling asleep while doing daytime activities, irritability, and difficulty focusing while awake. The disease is quite common. Almost 18 million American adults suffer from the condition, but only 20% have been diagnosed and are being treated for it.

Why do I stop breathing when I am asleep?

The breaks in breathing is a result of either a signaling problem in the brain or a blocked airway. If your condition stems from a signaling problem, this is called central sleep apnea (CSA). Of those with the condition, the majority of people have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The number of pauses in breath determines the severity of OSA:

  • Normal – 0-5 pauses per hour

  • Mild OSA – 5-15 pauses per hour

  • Moderate OSA – 16-30 pauses per hour

  • Severe OSA – 31+ pauses per hour

People with OSA will often wake with a snort, sometimes gasping for air during an apnea episode. The medical condition is medically diagnosed by a sleep study. If you wake yourself up consistently gasping for air, you may have sleep apnea. Repeated periods of breathlessness during your sleep cycle may also be an indication. Ask a loved one if you don't know whether your snore while sleeping.

What causes sleep apnea?

The most common cause of (obstructive) sleep apnea is obesity. You are considered overweight with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25-29.9 and obese with a BMI greater than 30. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines a healthy weight as having a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9. When you have excess weight on your body, the soft tissue in your throat and mouth can obstruct your breathing pattern. Individuals struggling to maintain a healthy weight have a higher risk of OSA. Smoking, excessing alcohol use, and the use of sedatives often also obstructs sleep and are risk factors.

People with certain physical features--like a narrow throat, thick neck, or a round head--may also be prone to sleep apnea. A thick neck is defined as having a circumference of 17 inches for men and 15 inches for women. Those with allergies that cause congestion in the upper airways also struggle with sleep related disorders.

These other causes aside, the most common cause of sleep apnea is excess weight and obesity. Each single unit increase in your body mass index (BMI) coincides with an increased risk of nearly 15% of developing the disease. Likewise, a 10% increase in weight also makes a person six times more prone to developing sleep apnea. Overweight and obese individuals are seven times more likely to develop the disorder compared to adults that are a healthy weight.

People with morbid-obesity may be prone to hypoventilation syndrome (Pickwickian syndrome). This occurs when your body weight compresses the lungs. That compression causes shallow and inefficient breathing at all times during the day or night. It may also occur in addition to other forms of sleep apnea.

Those with a family history of sleep disorders and obesity are also more prone to the condition. Ethnicity may also contribute. African Americans, Latinos, and those of Asian descent are also more prone to developing sleep disorders. Living with a sleep disorder, as well as obesity, also increases your risk of developing high blood pressure.

How do you get rid of sleep apnea?

The easy answer is: weight loss, though this is easier said than done, of course. People with sleep disorders are often tired during the day. This makes it difficult to stick to a weight loss plan. The fact remains that many people suffering from sleep apnea are also classified as overweight or obese. Normalized breathing during sleep often results when an individual loses weight. Joining a weight loss program designed especially for you will help you achieve your weight loss goals. Losing that excess weight could resolve your sleep apnea entirely. It could also help resolve any other obesity related illness you may have, such as hypertension or type 2 diabetes. Other treatments include:

  • Abstaining from tobacco and alcohol

  • Sleeping on your side

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy

  • Surgery

  • Mandibular repositioning device (MRD)

CPAP therapy requires you to wear a mask while you sleep. The mask keeps the airway open by gently pushing air through the mask and into the lungs. Surgery is sometimes used to widen the airway, or remove obstructing tissue. Bariatric surgery can also help resolve sleep apnea by treating obesity as the main cause. An MRD is a custom-made appliance that repositions the jaw to keep the upper airway open.

What happens if sleep apnea is untreated?

Untreated, sleep apnea puts you at risk for severe medical conditions and /or other complications, such as:

  • Car accidents

  • Decrease in cognitive ability

  • Metabolic syndrome

  • Depression

  • Hypertension

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Glaucoma

  • Chronic exhaustion

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Liver problems

  • Memory loss

Instead, the types of nutrients and foods you should prioritize for a healthy diet are:

If you have sleep apnea, your doctor has likely already recommended weight loss as a treatment option. Finding the right weight loss program is challenging. At Peak Medical Weight Loss Clinic, we strive to resolve obesity related illnesses. Through disease control and prevention, our team treats the many symptoms of obesity. We construct individual plans that include forming healthy eating habits and exercise to help you lose weight and keep it off.