If you’re a huge fan of Star Wars, you might be one of the millions of people who were distraught by Carrie Fisher’s untimely death. Fisher, who played Princess Leia in the critically acclaimed movie series, died of sleep apnea. Her sudden death raised a lot of questions about obstructive sleep conditions and people’s lack of awareness. But what is sleep apnea? Why does it occur?
According to the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, sleep apnea is a sleep condition that causes breathing interruptions during sleep, which can last anywhere from seconds to minutes.
And because those who suffer from this condition do not experience the symptoms when they’re awake, majority of cases go undiagnosed. Sleep apnea is also untraceable on blood tests. Most often, it is the sufferer’s sleeping partner or housemates who first detect symptoms, such as choking noises.
People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. The most common type of this condition is the obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep. While the other type, known as central sleep apnea, is essentially caused by neurological abnormalities, in which the brain fails to send a signal to the muscles to breathe, due to instability in the respiratory control center.
It has negative effects on your overall well-being
Sleep apnea can make you wake up in the morning feeling tired even though you’ve had more than eight hours of sleep. During the day, you may feel fatigued or even unintentionally fall asleep. This is because you’re unconsciously waking up in the middle of the night multiple times.
Because of this sleeping condition, your body receives less amount of oxygen, which can have negative long-term consequences for your health. This includes:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Are you at risk?
Basically, the severity of sleep apnea is based on your lifestyle. Recent studies by Healthy Sleep Solutions show that 92% of 78,145 obese males over 45 were diagnosed with sleep apnea and 86% of all obese patients were diagnosed with sleep apnea compared to 60% who were in a healthy weight range. This shows that sleep apnea has a particular relevance to cardiovascular diseases.
Several conditions associated with this sleep apnea, such as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, systemic inflammation and visceral fat deposition are also present in obesity and reduced sleep duration.
The occurrence of sleep apnea in obese or severely obese patients is nearly twice that of normal-weight adults. Fat deposition in the tissues surrounding the upper airway may result in a smaller lumen and increased collapsibility of the upper airway which helps us breath.
How is it treated?
The first thing to do is see your doctor. It is highly recommended that you take regarding your fatigue levels throughout the day, and any other symptoms you might be having. Ask your bed partner if he or she notices that you snore heavily, choke, or stop breathing during sleep.
One of the best ways to fight sleep apnea is by choosing a healthier lifestyle. Avoid alcohol or drugs that relax the central nervous system. They affect the brain, causing it to function more slowly and less effectively. Using alcohol and/or sedatives will increase the frequency and number of sleep apnea episodes that occur each night. When you stop taking these products, your sleep apnea may improve.
Being overweight is also a high risk factor for the development of obstructive sleep apnea. On one hand, carrying the extra weight can lead to breathing problems during sleep. Dietary modifications can also be effective tool to improve the management of complex sleeping conditions.
If you believe you carry symptoms of sleep apnea, make sure to contact your physician for a diagnosis and medical recommendations. Doing so can help minimize complications, and support a healthier lifestyle into the future.
Updated on 18 November 2018, 7:32 p.m.
Romero, A. C., & Caples, S. M. (n.d.). Interactions Between Obesity and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Retrieved March 2, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3021364/
Sleep Apnea: Overview and Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2018, from http://sleepeducation.org/essentials-in-sleep/sleep-apnea
Lifestyle Changes to Manage Sleep Apnea. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2018, from http://www.winchesterhospital.org/health-library/article?id=20180