Do you feel excessively and unreasonably sleepy during the day despite going to bed early? Does your partner snore and stir in his sleep, and wake up gasping?

One reason may be a condition known as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder, characterized by breathing interruptions during sleep. Apnea literally means ‘without breath’ in Greek. These interruptions, known as apneas, may go on for about 10 seconds or more, and occur regularly throughout the night.

Sleep apnea can affect people of any age and gender. However, the typical patient is an overweight middle-aged male with a long neck. You may be surprised to learn that sleep apnea is as common as diabetes. Nearly 40% of the population currently suffers from some type of sleep apnea. Before you rush to the doctor though, remember that only about half of them genuinely need treatment.

There are three kinds of sleep apnea. The most common of these is obstructive sleep apnea which is caused by the relaxation of soft tissue in the back of one’s throat. This ultimately blocks the passage of air to the lungs and back. Another form, known as central sleep apnea, is caused by irregularities in the brain’s normal signals for breathing. The third type of apnea is a combination of the first two and is called mixed sleep apnea.

The characteristic symptom of sleep apnea is excessive daytime sleepiness. Other indicators include restless sleep, loud snoring, waking up repeatedly and gasping in the night. The person suffering from sleep apnea does not feel fresh in the morning, no matter how many hours he has slept. He is plagued by headaches, irritability, concentration and memory issues, mood changes, weight gain, fatigue, hypertension, esophageal reflux and anxiety. Sleep apnea is also considered unhealthy as it is linked with cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, and impotency.

Sleep apnea can prove dangerous. For instance, excessive sleepiness during the day may cause people to fall asleep while they are driving or at work.

Although there is no cure for this condition, it can be treated. Mechanical breathing assistance or surgical procedures may help to manage sleep apnea. Not many drug-based treatments have been discovered for sleep apnea yet, anti-narcoleptics and neuroactive drugs may be prescribed to keep the patient awake and alert in the daytime.

Certain home remedies have shown promise in the treatment of sleep apnea:
•    Simply exercising and losing weight can reduce the incidence of sleep apnea as the passages in the back of the throat open up
•    Sleeping on one’s back may allow the tongue to fall into the airway and cause an obstruction so use pillows to keep the head elevated
•    Avoid alcohol and cigarettes within four hours of bed- time. Alcohol slows down respiration and makes apneas more frequent and severe.
•    Take all drugs with care. Ordinary medication can affect sleep and breathing.
•    Breathing techniques in yoga can be used to forcibly clean out air passages
•    Many people panic when they wake up unable to breathe and try to inhale vigorously. This only worsens the problem and the fear.
•    Acupuncture and acupressure can help reduce tension, increase circulation and enable the body to relax deeply
•    Aromatherapy oils are extracted from plants such as elemi, lavender and spikenard and can be used to promote better sleep.

Sleep apnea often goes unnoticed. The patients may complain of fatigue rather than sleepiness and may not realise that their nocturnal awakenings are due to breathlessness.  If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from sleep apnea, visit your physician now.

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