Do you have sleep apnea? How to find out and what you can do about it

Obstructed breathing during sleep can lead to a variety of serious health consequences. But help is nearby

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that poor sleep quality is a public health crisis.

Government of Canada research found that one in four adults aged 18 to 34 doesn’t get enough sleep. And that statistic applies to one in three adults between the ages of 35 and 64.

There are a number of factors that may contribute to an ongoing inability to get enough sleep, including stress, poor diet and mental health, a lack of exercise and more.

And the consequences of chronic sleep deprivation aren’t just feeling tired or irritable during the day. It can eventually lead to depression, obesity, diabetes, or even cardiovascular disease and increased risk of stroke.

As a Respiratory Therapist for Victoria’s CanSleep Services, Jane Stewart consults with patients all the time who “wake up dog tired every day and don’t know why.”

In many cases, these frustrated, persistently fatigued people are suffering from sleep apnea—and they never even knew it.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person experiences repeated periods of paused breathing during sleep. This paused breathing is often interspersed with episodes of loud snoring, and waking up abruptly while gasping for air. The common cause of sleep apnea is a collapsing of the soft tissue at the back of the throat during sleep, which consequently obstructs breathing.

Needless to say, because you’re asleep when sleep apnea is taking place, it can be difficult to self-diagnose—especially if you don’t share your bed with a partner who can hear your snoring or breathing disturbances. Adding to the problem, says Stewart, is that “someone who snores doesn’t necessarily have sleep apnea.”

There’s an assumption that sleep apnea tends to only afflict obese individuals. But this isn’t true, says Stewart. Sometimes it can simply be genetic. “I treated a father for sleep apnea and also his son, who was a teenager, and neither of them were overweight. Sometimes it’s all about the airways themselves, not about the weight around them. It’s what your mom and dad gave you, unfortunately. The combination of a large tongue and a small airway can be all it takes.”

The demands of modern life lead many of us who are sleeping poorly to “live with the tiredness,” says Stewart, especially if we don’t know there’s a legitimate medical reason for our daily fatigue.

But if you do suspect you’re experiencing sleep apnea, you should consult with your doctor, as ignoring it could have serious—potentially even fatal—outcomes. “When your airway obstructs, your oxygen levels drop. And with that, your heart rate increases. If that happens 30, 40, 50 times an hour each night, your heart can only take so much. Eventually, it can lead to high blood pressure—which is usually the first indication of sleep apnea—and that can lead to other things like pulmonary hypertension.”

Fortunately, there are effective solutions available for sleep apnea and other causes of poor sleep quality, and CanSleep Services specializes in diagnosing and treating all of them.

If you think you might have sleep apnea—or you simply don’t feel you’re sleeping as well as you should—the first thing you should do is talk to your family doctor. (If you don’t have one, visit a walk-in clinic.) The doctor will assess your situation and can then connect you with the specialists at CanSleep. In most cases, CanSleep is then able to provide an easy at-home test for sleep apnea that provides a diagnosis in just one night.

If tests conclude you do have sleep apnea, there are non-invasive solutions that can greatly reduce or even eliminate your symptoms, such as the use of a CPAP machine or an oral device, plus integrated treatments like diet and exercise consultation.

Once incorporated into their life, people who suffer from sleep apnea find these solutions have a dramatically positive effect.

“They look like they’re 20 years younger!” says Stewart. “I can see tiredness in patients’ eyes, and it’s like, ‘Wow, you look so much more awake!’ They’re getting restorative sleep. Their muscles are stronger. They feel like going for a walk. They’re not falling asleep during the six o’clock news.

“It’s a full life change—and all it is, is a good night’s sleep.”

CanSleep Services’ Victoria clinic is located at 2628 Richmond Rd. You can also visit the Eagle Creek location at 29 Helmcken Rd #150, Victoria, and call 250-940-5652. For more information, visit cansleep.ca. 

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