Snoring is a major problem, but it does not necessarily affect the perpetrator as much as it affects those within earshot. Sleep apnea, on the other hand, affects you the most.
Without realizing it, people suffering from sleep apnea temporarily stop breathing, or breathe very shallowly multiple times during a single night. The effects of sleep apnea are many, including those associated with bad sleep like inability to concentrate, grogginess, depression, and even accidents.
Many studies have also linked sleep apnea to a number of cardiovascular problems, like stroke, high blood pressure, and heart arrhythmias. The studies suggest that uneven breathing reduces oxygen levels in the blood, triggering elements of fight-or-flight response that increases blood pressure. The irregular breathing associated with sleep apnea may also overwork the heart.
How Sleep Apnea Occurs
There are two kinds of sleep apnea:
- Central sleep apnea occurs when the area of the brain that controls respiration forgets to relay signals to the chest muscles and diaphragm, causing breathing to stop temporarily. It does not cause snoring, but can affect the quality of sleep. Central sleep apnea is an unusual condition that becomes more common with age.
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), on the other hand, occurs when the fleshy tissues found in the back of the mouth (tonsils, tongue, soft palate) block airflow in and out the throat. Obstructive sleep apnea is more common, and is usually associated with snoring – though not all people who snore have OSA.
So, Can Sleeping Pills Help People With Sleep Apnea?
According to one study performed in 2009, the researchers found that giving people undergoing CPAP therapy a sleeping peel (eszopiclone – Lunesta) for the first two weeks helped them get used to the device, which in turn improved compliance later on.
However, clinical practice suggests that people with obstructive sleep apnea should not use sleep medications. This is because these pills tend to relax the airway tissue, increasing the risk of blocking the airway.
Sleep medications can be particularly risky for people with naturally lax tissues around the throat, a narrow airway, or overweight individuals, since the extra fat in the neck area can constrict the airway.
How To Address Sleep Apnea
It is hard to know you have sleep apnea unless your partner complains about your snoring, or you exhibit other signs, like fatigue throughout the day, daytime sleepiness, and morning headaches, dry mouth, cough, or sore throat.
Your treatment depends on the cause, severity of the sleep apnea, and any other conditions you may be having. However the most effective treatment is CPAP – continuous positive airway pressure – which involves the use of a machine and mask to pass air through your airway to keep it open. Simple lifestyle changes, like losing weight, limiting the use of alcohol, and getting treatment for colds, allergies, or sinus problems may also help.