Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing is disrupted. A pause in breathing from 10 seconds to several minutes is called an apnea, and when this occurs 5+ times per hour, there is cause for concern. Alternately, very shallow breathing is referred to as hypopnea. An overnight oxymetry test can be administered to check for periods of low blood-oxygen levels that might indicate a need for a more comprehensive study called a polysomnogram. These tests measure the oxygen and pulse like the preliminary test, but also measure brain activity, eye movement, muscle activity, and heart rhythm.

Sleep apnea comes in different forms. The most common is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the one we associate with snoring, and it is caused by a true physical blockage of airflow. Less common is Central Sleep Apnea which is actually due to weak respiratory function. The brain’s control centers do not respond quickly enough. It’s difficult to say whether obesity is a cause or a symptom, because the daytime sleepiness caused by lack of restful sleep at night can exacerbate an already sedentary lifestyle. Another important factor may be thyroid function, as low thyroid function can lead to decreased energy levels too. This could be the factor that sets obesity and apnea into self-perpetuating cycle. In order to break the cycle, you will have to tackle all three things at once; get your thyroid regulated with supplemental medication, establish and maintain a regular exercise plan, and in extreme cases you may need to use a breathing mask at night to help you stay asleep and feel rested enough to get through your busy day.

Some daytime problems caused by sleep apnea (besides fatigue) include slowed reaction, vision problems, memory and learning difficulties, attention deficit, mood swings/depression, liver disease, and insomnia or sleep paralysis. Sleep apnea is more common in men, elderly people, and people who are obese, though it can happen to anyone. The problem is usually first noticed by a partner or spouse who has difficulty sleeping due to the loud snoring. Some suggested methods for dealing with sleep apnea and snoring include avoiding cigarettes, alcohol and muscle relaxers, losing weight, and sleeping with your upper body elevated or on your side. You can even do tongue exercises to strengthen the muscles if that is the cause of the obstruction. In severe cases, breathing machines or even corrective surgery may be necessary. A CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure) provides a steady flow of oxygen throughout the night, while surgery involves tightening soft tissue in the airway (tonsils, uvula, and the surrounding tissue). Both can end up being very expensive, so weight loss and other lifestyle adjustments are highly recommended as preventative measures.

Sleep apnea is also associated with heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and auto accidents. If you can prevent or avoid it by simple tweaks like walking, eating healthier foods, or cutting back on drinking, the benefits are tremendous.
You can check out the results of my oxymetry test here.

Thursday Rambling: Sleep Apnea

Let’s try my Thursday, free-subject plan. I’ve decided to designate Thursdays for extras, which could include videos I’ve found (or made), comics relating to sleep/dreams, quizzes and dream interpretations I found entertaining, or sometimes just my own ramblings.

Today, I’m going to ramble a bit about things happening in my life regarding sleep. I haven’t had much to report as far as dreams this week, but I am trying some new things. My lung specialist has no idea what’s wrong with this one icky lung, and he admits that the weight issue has nothing to do with it, but maintains that a big girl like me must have sleep apnea. Since obesity is now considered a disease, doctors must treat it regardless of whatever ailment brought you there in the first place. He’s flying blind on my lung issue, but doing everything he can to stay involved in my weight loss. Y’know, I didn’t have to spend $600+ to know I need to lose weight, and so far that’s all he’s been able to tell me (actually, my poor mother has been footing the bill, so feel sorry for her).

So sleep apnea is a huge concern for overweight/obese people. I was given an overnight pulse oximetry test the weekend after my first visit with the specialist. They ran some tests before I saw him. My oxygen levels were just as high as they could be, 99 and 100. My lung output was “spot on” for someone my age. I have an excellent walking pace and my x-ray was clean. Having to return 3 weeks later to report the medicine did nothing to help my very productive cough, the doctor went over my sleep test results. They weren’t low, but they did fluctuate quite a bit, so he’s certain something must be happening there. He wants me to go in for an overnight sleep clinic test to get more solid readings, but says that sleep apnea can be resolved two ways: lose weight or get surgery. The actual treatment for someone simply coping with sleep apnea is to use a CPAP machine overnight. Now, personally, I think if my levels aren’t “low” yet and I’m already on an exercise/diet plan to lose the weight, the cost outweighs the benefit to have the additional tests and treatment.

Actually, the doctor seems to have so little knowledge of the overweight body, he borders on an uncredentialed fat-shamer. He’s constantly making statements like “So if you have to snack on something, go for the carrot sticks and not the Ben & Jerry’s.” My diet is not awful. The worst thing on my grocery list is the pop-tarts. My boyfriend and I eat veggie wraps and homemade sweet potato & zucchini soup. We bake our vegetable side dishes and stay away from fatty meats. We used to eat sandwiches quite a bit, but the bread alone takes up a huge portion of the daily allowance. The fact is, I’d been very inactive for a long time. The doctor suggested I start walking, so I’ve gotten a routine started. He said “Even if it’s 30 minutes a day 5 days a week, that’s a good start.” When I returned and he asked how much I’m walking, I told him I get at least 4 hours a week. He said “Is that 30 minutes here and there?” I told him at least an hour when I do it, and on Saturdays I go for 2 hours. “Two hours?! That’s several miles!” he sounded shocked. My mother and I looked at each other and back at him and nodded.

Despite all this, he still wants me to get more medical tests and treatments for the sleep apnea possibility, meanwhile he continues to throw ineffective medicines at the mystery ailment. It’s gotten me curious about my sleep patterns. This week I downloaded a program that would use my laptop’s webcam to make a time-lapse video out of pictures taken overnight. I’ll be going over the time-lapse study next Wednesday. So far it has been interesting, but I was a little nervous at first. I was nervous I would see something frightening in the video like you see in scary movies; something standing over the bed while I’m asleep. It was mostly just boring, so I sped up the framerate of the video. I got to watch my eyes dart around during REM, which was really cool. I look forward to more studies and sharing my results here.

I guess that’s all my rambling for the day. I will not be covering sleep apnea in depth until August. Next week, I’ll be talking about REM and the time-lapse study.