Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition caused by air passages becoming narrowed or blocked during sleep. As a result, breathing stops for short periods. Your body wakes up enough for breathing to start again. But you don't remember it. The cycle of stopped breathing and brief awakenings can repeat dozens of times a night. This prevents the body from getting to the deeper stages of sleep that are needed for good rest.

Signs of sleep apnea include loud snoring, noisy breathing, and gasping sounds during sleep. People with sleep apnea often find they use the bathroom many times during the night. Daytime symptoms include waking up tired after a full night's sleep and waking up with headaches. They can also include feeling very sleepy or falling asleep during the day, and having problems with memory or concentration.

Risk factors for sleep apnea include:

  • Being overweight

  • Being assigned male at birth, or being in menopause

  • Smoking

  • Using alcohol or sedating medicines

  • Having enlarged structures in the nose or throat such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids, or extra tissue in the airway

Home care

Lifestyle changes that can help treat snoring and sleep apnea include:

  • If you're overweight, talk with your healthcare provider about a weight-loss plan for you.

  • Don't drink alcohol for 3 to 4 hours before bedtime.

  • Don't take sedating medicines. Ask your healthcare provider about the medicines you take.

  • If you smoke, talk to your provider about ways to quit. It's important to stay away from secondhand smoke. Don't use e-cigarettes because of their harmful side effects.

  • Sleep on your side. This can help prevent gravity from pulling relaxed throat tissues into your breathing passages.

  • If you have allergies or sinus problems that block your nose, ask your provider for help.

  • Use positive airway pressure (PAP). Discuss with your provider the benefits of using PAP at home. And talk about the type of PAP that's best for you.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. A diagnosis of sleep apnea is made with a sleep study. Your provider can tell you more about this test.

When to get medical care

See your healthcare provider if you have daytime symptoms of sleep apnea. These include:

  • Waking up tired after a full night's sleep

  • Waking up with a headache

  • Feeling very sleepy or falling asleep during the day

  • Having problems with memory or concentration

Also talk with your provider if your partner tells you that you snore, gasp for air, or stop breathing while you sleep.

Seeing your provider is important because sleep apnea can make you more likely to have certain health problems. These include high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and sexual dysfunction. If you have sleep apnea, talk with your healthcare provider about the best treatments for you.

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