Are you tired all the time? Do you snore like a jet engine? Do you doze off even after you've gotten nine hours of sleep? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you might have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
In fact, 1 in 5 adults deals with OSA, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In men, OSA is especially correlated with health problems like drug-resistant hypertension, obesity, and diabetes.
So, what the heck is it? Sleep apnea actually causes you to stop breathing. Seriously. But, it's only for ten seconds at a time. Then, your brain kicks in and signals you to wake up and breathe. Rather than consciously waking up, however, the person will subconsciously wake and breathe. And it's not just once—someone with OSA will subconsciously awaken at least five times per hour of sleep, according to a report in The New York Times.
With episodes occurring so frequently, it’s difficult for someone with OSA to get a good night's sleep. And because it’s so tough to be well-rested when your sleep cycles are interrupted every 12 minutes, the most common symptom of OSA is sleepiness.
"Individuals who have sleep apnea are excessively sleepy," says W. Christopher Winter, M.D., a board-certified sleep medicine doctor and neurologist and the lead physician at Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine in Virginia. "By sleepy, I mean truly driven to sleep. A lot of people confuse sleepiness and fatigue. These individuals have difficulty staying awake. You fall asleep in church, you fall asleep in waiting rooms [and] you fall asleep in movies. That’s the biggest symptom."
As a result, if you notice any OSA symptoms in yourself, your partner, or for that matter, anyone, raise the question. Then, you/they will need to head to a sleep doctor and probably need to have a sleep study, says Winter, who notes there are actually home sleep studies that can be very helpful.
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA), the overnight study (called a polysomnography) will last roughly six hours and yield a plethora of data that can help determine whether a patient has OSA. Fortunately, there's a multitude of ways to treat sleep apnea; however, every case is unique, so there is no universal solution.
The most common remedy is through PAP masks. These contraptions are designed to be placed over the nose or both the nose and mouth, transmitting pressurized air into the person’s throat, according to the ASAA. This air pressure keeps the airway rigid, preventing it from becoming loose and closing itself off.
Other treatments include a specially crafted oral device and in some cases, even surgery.
"I always consider [these] surgeries like Lasik," Winter says. "I wear glasses. Could I get Lasik? Sure, but I don’t really care, I’ll just wear the glasses. I think a lot of people feel the same way about this. But, there are certainly other people like, 'I’m a single guy and I date a lot of women and the last thing I want is to have this Darth Vader mask put on my face at night.' So, for those people, surgical interventions can be very helpful."
If you are diagnosed with OSA, regardless of which cure you choose, the most important thing is that you are disciplined when trying to prevent it. In addition to being a nuisance to both yourself and possibly your partner, OSA can cause weight gain, increase blood pressure, blood sugar, and risk of heart disease.