What is sleep apnea and why does it occur?
It is a disorder rather than a pathology, and it is known as ‘the syndrome of non-sleepers’, because those affected, despite sleeping soundly, wake up tired and with the feeling of hardly having slept.
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It consists of repeated arrests of breathing with great frequency during sleep, which are produced by obliteration of the tracheal ducts by the weight of the tissues around the throat, which give way due to the relaxation of muscle tone.
In this way, the neck area relaxes during the night in those affected until the trachea is obliterated and closes, momentarily stopping breathing. Immediately the body reacts with a small unconscious jolt in which it regains its tone and position in order to continue breathing. This process can be repeated up to 200 times overnight.
The consequence is a bad rest, with frequent breaks, even awakenings that we do not remember in the morning, and that leaves us with the feeling of being more tired than at bedtime. Our head hurts and our mouth is dry and we really notice that our energies are more diminished, in parallel with our libido and our sexual desire. We even tend to fall asleep during the day.
Additionally, another problem is that these interruptions could alter essential nocturnal metabolic processes; In the long run, if not remedied, it can lead to diseases such as type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association -some studies closely relate both problems– or gastroesophageal reflux and stomach ulcer. Also, sleep apnea favors the risk of heart attack.
Who are the candidates for sleep apnea?
- Men: Sleep apnea is a disorder that mainly affects men, especially after 45 years, although it also grows among menopausal women.
- Smokers: Smoking is a factor that significantly increases the risk of sleep apnea.
- Drinkers– Drinking alcohol at night is also among the most common causes of sleep apnea.
- Obese peopleObesity, whether due to glucose assimilation disorders (diabetes) and other cardiovascular disorders, or due to the thickness of adipose tissues, obese people are almost systematically victims of sleep apnea.
- People who take sleeping pills: By promoting muscle relaxation, sleeping pills contribute to sleep apnea.
- People with anatomical abnormalities: vegetations, excessively large tonsils –in children–, narrow pharynx and other peculiarities can favor this disorder.
How is it detected and what remedies do you have?
The first indication to detect is our own symptoms when we wake up. We must ask ourselves if, usually, despite the fact that we are sure that we have slept soundly, we wake up tired and without energy, with a headache and a dry mouth.
Also if we sleep during the day and we find it hard to concentrate. If so, we should not think that we are complaining of vice and we will have to consider the possibility of having entered a cycle of sleep apnea.
Secondly, we must weigh if we are among the risk groups specified above; if the coincidence exists, we will have to go to a family doctor to expose our problem.
The safest thing is that the doctor gives us time to perform a polysomnographic study, which is a study of our sleep during one night. For this we may have to go to a clinic, although currently there are portable devices that are easy to handle, so that we can do ourselves what is known as a respiratory polygraphy.
In both cases it will be obtained a record of possible disturbances in our sleep by respiratory arrests that professionals will interpret. If the result is temporary apnea, the causes will be analyzed, which may include losing weight, quitting smoking, or limiting alcohol or tranquilizers at night.
In the case of a more persistent apnea, in older people, a treatment known as CPAP or Continuous Positive Pressure. It consists of a device that blows air into the sleeper’s respiratory system through a mask, thereby preventing the muscular relaxation responsible for apnea from occurring.
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