Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition where both men and women experience repeated interruptions and stoppages in airflow during sleep that can range in duration from a few seconds to more than a minute.
This causes the sleeper to choke, stir and wake up until normal breathing is restored, and this cycle may repeat itself hundreds of times throughout the night. Sleep duration may seem normal, but deep, restorative sleep is hard to come by.
There is usually no memory of these awakenings, explaining why many sufferers aren’t even aware that they have a problem. But, it can have a significant impact on your quality of life, as the decreased oxygen and increased carbon dioxide can be stressful to your body.
It may also impact upon your partner, and their quality of sleep.
What causes OSA?
Men and those who are overweight are more likely suffer from OSA, although it can affect anyone. We know that overweight men tend to store fat around the tummy, but it can also be stored around the tongue, tonsils and neck, and this can disrupt normal breathing.
The obstruction in OSA occurs when the tongue and soft tissues at the back of the throat relax and partially or completely block the upper airways during sleep. Some people may also have narrow openings from the nose to the throat which make it harder for air to pass through at a normal rate.
What are the symptoms of OSA?
The symptoms of OSA include:
- Loud snoring
- Pauses in breathing and snoring lasting 10-60 seconds during sleep (observed by partners)
- Memory loss
- Erectile dysfunction
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty concentrating and functioning at work
- Excess body fat
- High blood pressure
While these symptoms suggest OSA is likely, the best way to be sure is with an overnight sleep study.
Lifestyle choices to treat OSA?
Once diagnosed, a pump and face masks (a device called continuous positive airway pressure) might be prescribed by a sleep specialist to help treat OSA. But there are also some important lifestyle strategies you can adopt to better manage the condition. Improving sleep quality can help to boost your vitality and mental health, and it may also help your relationship.
Lose weight – Losing body fat may help or even cure OSA. In addition to eating well, participate in regular cardiovascular exercise, which can help to burn fat and boost your energy levels. Just make sure to avoid late night exercise which may interfere with sleep quality.
Eat well – Your body needs a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to repair and restore itself during sleep. To help your body function at its best, make sure your diet is loaded with nutrient rich unprocessed foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and seafood.
Drink less alcohol – Cut back or cut out alcohol, especially close to bed time. Alcohol relaxes the muscles and may worsen OSA.
Establish a good sleep routine – Establish a regular pre-bedtime ritual to help prepare your body for quality sleep. This may include having a bath, dimming the lights, practicing relaxation techniques, and avoiding caffeine, cigarettes and food a few hours before bed.
Natural therapies - Sedative herbs such as valerian extract may help you to feel relaxed before going to bed. Other substances such as lemon balm and magnesium may also help you to fall asleep, and sleep better. Speak to your naturopath for further advice.
References available upon request
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