Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition that could threaten your life. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to control sleep apnea and experience a more restful night’s sleep. Sleep apnea is a condition characterized by pauses in breathing while you’re asleep.

With Obstructive Sleep Apnea, a portion of the airway closes during the sleeping process that causes the airway to become blocked. The tongue is a common blocker in the airway, as well as the upper portion of the larynx. As your body settles into sleep, the muscles of the throat relax and begin to close. This results in a narrowing of the airway, which interferes with respiration.

In extreme cases, you may briefly stop breathing hundreds of times in one night. The result is a poor night’s rest and fatigue throughout the day.

Central Sleep Apnea has the same result, but occurs when the brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing while the body is in a state of sleep.

Sleep apnea can be difficult to diagnose without a sleep study. Since you cannot hear yourself snore, a family member or spouse can tell you if you’re snoring throughout the night.

Consult your physician if you experience the following, or your partner observes these:

  • Snoring loud enough to disturb the sleep of others or yourself
  • Shortness of breath that awakens you from sleep
  • Intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep
  • Excessive drowsiness that impedes normal functions
  • Catching yourself falling asleep while doing routine tasks, like driving, watching television, or working

A physician may refer you to a sleep-study center if he’s concerned that you might have sleep apnea. After an initial appointment to gather information, you’ll be asked to return for an evening. The center will hook you up to several wires and electrodes that will monitor your breathing patterns as you sleep.

Once the observation is complete, a specialist will analyze your breathing, heart rate and sleep patterns. In some cases, you’ll be asked to return for another night of observation. This time, you’ll sleep wearing a device called a CPAP (Consistent Positive Airway Pressure).

CPAP uses a simple mask connected to a machine that provides constant pressure while you sleep. This keeps the airway open. This is the most common method used to correct obstructive sleep apnea.

If CPAP is ineffective, other adjustable airway devices can be used adjust the pressure in the airway while you sleep. Oral devices that shift the position of the jaw in order to open the airway are another treatment option.

There are several things you can do at home to correct sleep apnea: 

  1. Eat right and exercise. Weight often contributes to sleep apnea. A healthy diet and regular exercise can sometimes decrease or eliminate the symptoms of apnea.
  1. Avoid alcohol before sleeping. Alcohol and certain medications may relax your muscles to the point that they cause obstructive sleep apnea. Consult your doctor before reducing the dosage or changing the time you take any medication.
  1. Sleep in a different position. Changing sleeping position can often help greatly, especially if you’re used to sleeping on your back. Instead, try laying on your side or abdomen for a better night’s sleep.
  1. Use breathing strips. Breathing strips open the nostrils to help you breathe easier. A saline spray or saline irrigation may help to eliminate mucus buildup in the airway and clear the way for easier breathing while you slumber.

Seek the advice of a family physician to determine the best course of action for your particular situation. For information on sleep studies and to find a center in your area, contact your local hospital or speak with your doctor. The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll experience the restful night’s sleep your body so desperately needs.