Sleep Disorders | June 12, 2018 | Author: Naturopath
Feel like you've just been hit by a bus when you wake up? Headaches all morning, and extreme fatigue throughout the day? You may have sleep apnea.
Apnea means “no breath” and sleep apnea is a serious medical condition where breathing is halted during sleep. This can be due to an obstruction of the airways or irregular respiratory signals from the brain. All forms of sleep apnea result in a build-up of carbon monoxide and too little oxygen circulated throughout the body, which can contribute to sleeplessness, fatigue, and serious health conditions.
NOTE: While almost all people who suffer from sleep apnea snore, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea!
Snoring can be a clear sign of sleep apnea, but in many cases it is not an indicator of a breathing disorder. To tell the difference between sleep apnea snoring and “normal” snoring, ask your sleeping partner.
Snoring may be an indicator of obstructive sleep apnea if you snore loud enough that it wakes them up, if they notice that you stop breathing while sleeping, choke or wake up gasping for air.
Snoring usually doesn't cause the mood symptoms of sleep apnea, but may contribute to a sore throat, frequent waking and mild fatigue. Seek advice from a qualified practitioner if your tiredness is extreme or you experience mood or personality changes.
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The most extreme and most common form of sleep-related upper airway resistance is OSA, where breathing stops for over ten seconds when the upper airway becomes completely or partially closed during sleep. OSA is the most common breathing disorder – it occurs in 2 – 9% of adults, but up to 80% of cases are undiagnosed . It is a serious condition that is associated with high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, heart failure and hypersomnolence (falling asleep randomly during the day, which can cause accidents and even death when driving a car). 
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In the most common forms of sleep apnea, the muscles of the upper airway relax too much during sleep or the muscles. This causes the airways to narrow, causing reverberation and snoring, and limiting the amount of oxygen delivered to the lungs. If the airway narrows further, it can become completely blocked and stop air for over 10 seconds at a time – this can happen repeatedly, even over 100 times every night!
Symptoms of OSA are the same as other sleep apnea conditions, but more frequently include snorting, gasping, or choking during sleep.
Central sleep apnea is far less common that OSA, and occurs due to an issue with signals sent from the brain to the thoracic and abdominal muscles that control breathing. It doesn't involve any obstruction of the airway – rather, the brainstem is often affected, failing to send accurate and consistent signals to the respiratory system. Rather than recurrent moments of obstruction, central sleep apnea is characterised by repetitive episodes of shallow or absent breathing. When oxygen and carbon dioxide levels become out of balance, they will eventually signal the brain to wake up, causing poor quality sleep.
Mixed sleep apnea, also known as complex sleep apnea, involves both OSA and central sleep apnea occurring at the same time.
This usually happens when OSA is treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that then causes central sleep apnea.
As mentioned, conventional treatment for sleep apnea includes a CPAC machine which can help and hinder sleep quality. Complementary therapies may help to reduce the frequency or severity of airway closure in OSA and may help to regulate breathing in central and mixed sleep apnea.
If you are on any medications, speak to your pharmacist and doctor about their risk of causing sleep apnea. Opioid use is a major risk factor for both OSA and central sleep apnea, and there may be alternative medications available. Taking multiple medications increases the risk of sleep apnea, so ask for a yearly review of your medications – you may be able to cut down on your number of prescriptions .
A 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis of all available studies concluded that acupuncture can improve all measurements of sleep apnea and sleep quality . If needles aren't your thing, ask your acupuncturist for auriculotherapy – acupressure points in the ear are stimulated with tiny magnetic press pellets, and have been shown to improve obstructive sleep apnea .
Dim the lights after dinner, switch off your screens and pick up a book. Having a consistent and calming bedtime ritual can improve sleep quality, reduce onset of OSA, and may minimise the requirements for sleeping pills . Key bedroom improvements include:
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