According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, sleep apnea is “an involuntary cessation of breathing that occurs while the patient is asleep.” People with sleep apnea may stop breathing hundreds of times each night.

Each apnea may last from a few seconds to over a minute. Often, the patient doesn’t wake up, but his or her sleep is disturbed each time breathing stops.

While sleep apnea is extremely common, we don’t hear about it as much as we should. Many sleep apnea health problems can be avoided with a simple sleep study and the use of a positive airway pressure machine to aid breathing.

The following pinpoint several questions we commonly receive about the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea. If you think sleep apnea may be an issue for you, call us for an appointment.

Who has sleep apnea? How common is it?

Typically, men experience sleep apnea more than women do. While those over 40 years of age are more at risk, sleep apnea is found in every age, even small children. Studies have shown that many overweight and obese people experience sleep disturbances, which may aggravate their weight and other health problems.

Sleep apnea affects almost 20 million people nationwide, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Most cases of sleep apnea are undiagnosed.

Is there more than one type of sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is divided into three types: central, obstructive, and mixed. In central sleep apnea, the brain fails to send the signal to breathe. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a collapse of the tissue in the back of the throat, blocking the airway. Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of central and obstructive sleep apnea.

How does sleep apnea affect your health?

If sleep apnea is untreated, you may experience high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, heart disease, obesity, and other serious disorders. Severe sleep apnea can be a factor in sudden death.

Do you think you might have it?

A sleep study is the only way to diagnose sleep disturbances, but there are several telltale signs of sleep apnea to help you decide whether to see a doctor.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Severe or loud snoring
  • Uneven or raspy breathing while sleeping
  • Waking up during the night with a feeling of suffocating
  • Restless sleeping
  • Not feeling rested when you awaken
  • Waking up with a sore throat or dry mouth
  • Sleepiness during the day, sometimes so severe that you fall asleep while driving
  • Falling asleep while relaxing at home
  • Needing more sleep every night to make it through the day

Any symptom warrants a doctor visit, but if you have more than two, please see a doctor as soon as possible.

What is the naturopathic approach to sleep apnea?

As with any health issue, a naturopathic physician will want to identify the source of your sleep difficulties. When you work with us, we will explore and address several common causes, so you can sleep again without experiencing apnea.

Allergies may be caused by your environment or by eating certain foods. An allergy is the most common cause of sleep apnea that we see, and it’s the most easily corrected by reducing symptoms. We do this is through an initial blood test to identify which specific foods may trigger your immune system. We will ask you to reduce or eliminate those foods from your diet.

Environmental allergies are dealt with in two ways. The first is to eliminate potential allergens from your home. We will ask you to clean air filters, dust well, and consider using an allergen mattress and pillow covers. The second is to improve your allergy barriers by using nasal saline spray and improving your gut health.

Helping you lose weight can be a simple solution to resolve apnea and reduce other significant health risks. We help many clients with their weight by asking them to make simple lifestyle changes. As they improve their lifestyle, weight loss comes naturally and sustainably. As excess weight comes off, sleep apnea will improve and eventually resolve.

Often the issues of weight and allergies are intimately related. When your body reacts to food allergens, the resulting inflammatory response causes water retention and begins a weight gain cycle. Identifying and eliminating foods you react to are the keys to successful long-term weight loss.

If none of these approaches works, we may refer you for a sleep study.

What happens during a sleep test or sleep study?

You may be asked if you prefer a facility sleep test (polysomnogram) or a home sleep study. Not all insurance companies will pay for a home sleep test at this time, but some patients choose this more convenient option.

When you report to the hospital or sleep facility, you will be hooked up to several sensors, such as a pulse oximeter, blood pressure cuff, and chest monitor. Then you simply go to sleep. A sleep technologist will monitor you and take several measurements throughout the night, including blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, brain waves, and breathing.

Sometimes during a hospital sleep study, you will be given oxygen if you need it, and you may also be put on a CPAP or BiPAP.

A home sleep study is simpler but does not give your doctor as much information. You will receive a kit in the mail with a chest monitor, a nasal cannula much like patients on oxygen wear, and a pulse oximeter. These sensors are connected to a small box that records breathing, oxygen, and chest movements though the night.

Your doctor will receive the results shortly after the sleep study.

What happens if I have sleep apnea?

If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, you will return to the hospital or sleep facility and repeat the sleep study with a CPAP or BiPAP device. PAP stands for positive airway pressure, and it provides pressurized air that flows either continuously (CPAP) or at specific intervals (BiPAP).

Be sure that the mask you use is comfortable, or you’ll be less likely to use your PAP device. Masks vary from a full-face mask (such as a fighter pilot would wear) to nasal pillows that sit on the nostrils.

If you think you may have sleep apnea, call us for a sleep consultation.