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Untreated Sleep Apnea Saps Energy and Life Quality
My wife tells me I began snoring a few years ago. While I had passed it off as a normal issue for a man my age, I recently began to feel much more fatigued and more concerned about my poor sleeping habits. In addition, for the first time, despite exercise and healthful eating, I was completely unable to lose the extra 10 pounds I'd gained during the winter.
Clearly, "something was up," and the underlying signs pointed to my chronic problems with sleeping. Fortunately for me, a young woman came to my office promoting the use of a pulse oximeter, which is a small machine that can measure the amount of oxygen in the blood continuously over prolonged periods and often is used as an initial screening test for sleep disorders.
Decreased oxygen levels during sleep are indicative of a more serious problem. One restless night later, the results were in; I have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a very common condition. It affects more than 12 million Americans. It occurs more often in older adults who snore and are overweight. Unfortunately, many ignore the symptoms, and the problem can go untreated for years.
When sleeping, people with sleep apnea stop breathing for a few seconds; it can last as long as 30 seconds. In that short time, the brain is depleted of oxygen and sends panic signals to the lungs. This internal alarm tells the body to wake up and start breathing again. So a person with sleep apnea doesn't fall into a deep sleep; the majority of the night is restless, with many awakenings.
Sleep apnea can be a very serious condition, with major negative effects on your overall health. In addition to impairing quality of life, it increases blood pressure, raises the risk of heart attack and stroke, and is a major cause of depression and memory loss. Because of daytime fatigue, those with sleep apnea tend to become more sedentary, eat more and gain weight.
Even worse, sleep apnea alters the hormonal milieu of the body and affects the concentration of leptin, the hormone that affects appetite and metabolism. Because of altered leptin levels, those with sleep apnea not only gain weight but also find it much more difficult to lose weight and exercise.
Many adults ignore the symptoms of restless sleep and daytime fatigue and choose to self-medicate with sleeping pills or sedatives. If you have sleep apnea, that only makes the problem worse.
When patients with sleep apnea are under the influence of sleeping pills, the sedatives allow their oxygen levels to remain low for much longer and disturb the traditional sleep-wake cycle. That, in turn, makes all the problems associated with the condition worse — including more fatigue the following day.
After my night with the pulse oximeter, it was clear that I needed further evaluation from a medical professional. After receiving a complete examination by a sleep specialist and an analysis of blood tests, I have been ordered to undergo a sleep study sometime in the next few weeks. A sleep study involves monitoring brain waves using an EEG, as well as monitoring heart rate, heart rhythm and oxygen content of the blood while sleeping.
Simultaneously, my limbs' movements during sleep will be assessed. Based on that analysis, a sleep specialist will evaluate the quality of my sleep and then formally diagnose sleep apnea or another sleep disorder that can lead to fatigue, restless leg syndrome and a condition called periodic limb movement disorder.
Fortunately, there are many treatments available for sleep apnea. The most common therapy for mild to moderate sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure machine, which forces air to the lungs and keeps the breathing passages open, thus allowing the patient to sleep undisturbed. If you cannot tolerate the CPAP machine, there are also oral appliances and other machines that may help.
I hope simple lifestyle changes and appropriate medical therapy will end my problems with sleep apnea. Not only will I have more energy and find it easier to lose weight but also my life expectancy and quality of life will be much-improved.
Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the book "Breaking the Rules of Aging." To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. More information is available at www.DrDavidHealth.com.
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