Few things are as important to our health as getting good sleep. And yet almost three-quarters of Americans aren't even logging 7 hours per night - the minimum amount we all need to function well. Worse yet, many of us are suffering from a serious sleep disorder that not only compromises our sleep but also puts our lives at risk. If you (or someone you love) has trouble sleeping, read on. A good night's sleep could save your life.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Normally when we sleep, the throat muscles keep our airway open so we can breathe in plenty of oxygen. When people suffer from sleep apnea, the airway narrows dangerously either because the throat muscles relax too much, the tongue and tonsils are too large in relation to the windpipe, or extra tissue from being overweight thickens the windpipe wall, narrowing the airway. Sleep apnea can also happen when the brain does not communicate well with the muscles that need to keep the airway open.
The result is a vibration caused by the unsuccessful effort to pull in air - the telltale snoring of sleep apnea sufferers. Eventually, when oxygen intake becomes too low, your brain will wake you up to prevent you from dying in your sleep. For people with severe sleep apnea, this can happen hundreds of times a night.
Why Is Sleep Apnea Dangerous?
Beyond making you and your partner miserable and exhausted, sleep apnea is a major cause of high blood pressure and can lead to inflammation and clogging in your arteries. Over the long term, it often results in irritability and depression, and in some instances, can kill someone in their sleep.
What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
- Daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring at night
- Interruptions in nighttime breathing
- Abrupt awakenings followed by shortness of breath
- Acid reflux
- Frequent nighttime urination
- Memory loss
- Large neck size (over 17 inches for men and 16 for women)