Despite increasing awareness of the potentially life-threatening condition, sleep apnea continues to be seriously under-diagnosed, with countless sufferers failing to receive effective treatment which targets the true cause of their health issues. Sleep apnea can come in many forms and although it is often accompanied by snoring, it is not uncommon for sufferers to report no snoring at all, making it even harder to identify. So how do you know if you might be suffering from this dangerous sleep sickness?
There are seven key symptoms to look out for which may indicate that you have sleep apnea.
Not all sleep apnea sufferers snore, but all habitual snorers should be tested for sleep apnea. Snoring is one of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea, and also the easiest to identify (especially for those who share a bed). Snoring is caused by a partial blockage of the airways, so its presence almost always indicates that there is some kind of issue with airflow during sleep. For many mild or infrequent snorers this blockage is not serious and will not have an adverse effect on health. However, if snoring is particularly loud and/or frequent it may be a symptom of sleep apnea and should not be ignored.
Pauses in breathing
If your breathing frequently pauses while you are sleeping, you are almost certainly suffering from sleep apnea. These pauses, known as apnea events, occur between 5-30 times per hour and can last for up to 20 seconds at a time (although they may be significantly shorter). During an apnea event, your brain does not receive enough oxygen, causing you to wake up briefly in order to restart the breathing process. The result is that your brain is deprived of oxygen throughout the night and you are also woken up multiple times, leaving your body oxygen deprived and insufficiently rested. As these events are very brief, suffers will most likely not be aware that they are occurring at all – they will sleep right through them. The only way to know if they are occurring (other than a sleep test) is if the sufferer is alerted by somebody who has observed them sleeping.
Fatigue or Extreme Tiredness
This may come as a surprise to many, but feeling tired throughout the day is not normal or healthy. Feeling tired after a late night is one thing, but tiredness after 7+ hours of sleep is a definite cause for concern. If you find it extremely hard to wake up, find yourself fighting extreme tiredness during the day, or needing to take naps to get you through the day, sleep apnea may be the underlying cause. Because sleep apnea causes you to wake up multiple times during the night, your sleep cycle is repeatedly interrupted, so that you still feel tired no matter how many hours you spend in bed each night. While there are multiple conditions which can lead to extreme fatigue, sleep apnea is often overlooked and is worth asking your doctor about.
Frequent low mood/irritation
While the most obvious effect of the sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea is tiredness, it can also have a noticeable effect on mood, causing mood swings, irritation or a generally low mood.
Headaches when waking up
Sleep apnea causes pauses in breathing which deprive your brain of oxygen and often result in headaches in the morning. If you have unexplained headaches which seem to be the most noticeable immediately after you wake up, sleep apnea could very well be to blame.
Being Overweight or Obese
Being overweight can be both a cause and a symptom of sleep apnea, meaning that those struggling with their weight should be particularly aware of the condition. Sleep apnea is caused by an obstruction of the airways by excess tissue at the back of the throat. If you have excessive fatty tissue, particularly around your neck, you have a greatly increased chance of suffering from sleep apnea and should be tested.
If you suffer from any of the symptoms mentions in this article, it may be worth booking an appointment with a sleep specialist (this does not require a referral from a GP). Ultimately, the only way to know if you have sleep apnea is to undergo a sleep test, which can be provided by your doctor or sleep specialist. To speak to a sleep specialist, contact Dr Levi here or call (02) 9283 1900.
Snoring is one of those medical conditions often viewed by sufferers as an unavoidable annoyance they simply have to endure. Around 15% of the population snore most nights, yet many people erroneously believe that there is no treatment available that is actually able to stop snoring completely. Luckily for sufferers (and their bedmates) there are at least 5 snoring solutions that are highly effective in reducing the intensity and frequency of snoring, often to the extent that it is undetectable and no longer affects sleep quality at all. If you snore and you haven’t tried at least a few of these snoring solutions, you are most likely suffering unnecessarily. So read on to discover how your snoring could be treated.
1. Weight Loss
Although patients often hate to hear it, weight loss is one of the most powerfully effective treatments for snoring. Snoring is caused by the partial obstruction of the airway by excessive or loose tissue, which is always more likely to be present in people who are overweight due to excess fatty tissue and poor muscle tone. For many patients, simply losing weight will cause their snoring symptoms to disappear completely. This will have a twofold positive effect on your health; not only will you benefit from losing weight, your sleep quality and oxygen supply will increase from the reduction in snoring, giving you more energy, better moods and a better metabolism, ultimately helping you to keep your weight stable.
Positives: Free, highly effective and with multiple health benefits
Negatives: Can be difficult to achieve and may take a long period of time (other treatments can be used to manage snoring while weight loss is in progress)
2. Positional Therapy
Any spouse of a snorer will tell you that the snoring is always worse when their partner is sleeping on his or her back. This is no coincidence; when you sleep on your back the tissue at the back of your throat relaxes and blocks your airways. If you only snore when you are on your back, you probably only experience mild to medium snoring which can often be treated through positional therapy to prevent you from sleeping on your back. There are a number of devices available to help you sleep in healthier positions without disturbing your sleep or that of your partner. One example is the Night Shift which is worn on the neck and begins to vibrate when you sleep on your back, prompting you to move (much more gently than that sharp elbow to the ribs favoured by the spouses of snorers).
Positives: Cheap and easy to use
Negatives: Only effective for mild to moderate snorers who do not have sleep apnoea
3. Anti Snoring Mouth Guard
The anti snoring mouth guard is a device which works by manually bringing the jaw forward, lifting the soft palate and holding the tongue forward in order to prevent obstruction of the airways. These devices are worn in the mouth during sleep and are very comfortable and (unlike the commonly used CPAP machine) completely silent. Oral appliances are currently the leading treatment for sleep apnoea due to their high (93%) success rate and ease of use. While the internet is bursting at the seams with low quality, mass produced mouth guards, the highly effective Mandibular Advancement Splint mouth guard needs to be customised to suit the mouth of the wearer in order for it to actually work.
Positives: Highly effective, comfortable and silent
Negatives: Must be fitted by a professional and worn every night to prevent snoring
Laser snoring solutions are extremely new to the Australian market but have been used widely and successfully in Europe for a number of years. The treatment uses laser light to strengthen and tighten the tissue at the back of the throat that would otherwise relax and obstruct the airways. Laser snoring treatment is the closest thing to an actual ‘cure’ for snoring, as it removes the physical cause of snoring rather then just controlling it during sleep.
Positives: Pain free, surgery free and no need to wear any device during sleep
Negatives: Maintenance treatments may be required. Efficacy rate is slightly lower than the mouth guard (Dr Mark Levi and world renowned Dr Harvey Shiffman (Florida, USA) get an average improvement of 75% or greater using the NightLase laser treatment (with the Florida protocols)).
5. CPAP Machine
The CPAP machine, or sleep apnoea machine, is the treatment that springs to most people’s minds when they picture snoring solutions. What many people don’t know is just how effective these machines can be in helping people to stop snoring and improving the overall health of mild to severe snorers. The CPAP machine uses mild air pressure (delivered through a mask worn over the face) to keep the airways open. It is typically used to treat people whose snoring is caused by sleep apnoea. While this machine is incredibly effective when used properly, it is not the right choice for everybody, as many people find the noise and discomfort of the machine off-putting and actually prefer the snoring (despite the negative health repercussions).
Positives: The most effective snoring treatment available when used consistently
Negatives: Can disturb sleep through discomfort and noise
Dr Levi is a snoring and sleep apnoea specialist with over 20 years’ experience. Dr Levi’s Sleep Clinic uses the latest technological advancements to offers customised snoring solutions that really work. He has a number of specialists including dieticians, ENTs, psychologists, cardiologists and physicians which he may refer clients to in order to ensure their treatment is holistic and effective. Don’t waste another night of precious sleep – call Dr Levi on (02) 9283 1900 to book a consultation today.