An expert’s view on sleep apnea

Even the occasional insomniac may feel the agony of lost sleep. Imagine for a moment when you woke up drowsy and worn out every morning. Daytime sleepiness and brain fog are constant reminders that even though you may be going to bed and staying in bed for the recommended amount of time, you aren’t getting good quality rest for the up to 1 in 3 adults who are estimated to have obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which the patient briefly stops breathing at intervals during the night. And it’s all a result of the fact that people with sleep apnea simply cannot breathe normally when they are sleeping.

Sleep Apnea: What Is It?

One typical sleep issue is sleep apnea. A 2016 survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates that 29.4 million individuals, or 14% of the population, using sleep apnea machine. Approximately 80% of these go undetected. Major risk factors for the condition’s development include age and obesity. It is anticipated that the prevalence of sleep apnea would rise as obesity rates keep rising and the American population ages.

  • Loud, constant snoring that is sometimes interrupted by gasps, pauses, and snorts.
  • Lack of sleep or daytime drowsiness.
  • Having a dry mouth and feeling drained upon awakening.
  • Regular waking up throughout the night.
  • Gasping for air or feeling like you’re choking when you wake up.

You normally only briefly awaken as a result of sleep apnea in order to start breathing again. You may not even be aware of your presence. According to Dr. Peter A. Fotinakes, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California, these occurrences are known as arousals and “it’s analogous to someone shaking you up.” These arousals result in fragmented, non-restorative sleep, which “leads to daytime drowsiness, which may become as severe as a narcoleptic’s lethargy,” according to research.

Related: Do you with your CPAP machine on?

Significant Sleep Disruption

Pulmonologist and director of the sleep medicine division at National Jewish Health in Denver, Dr. Sheila Tsai, claims that “Obstructive sleep apnea condition results in repeated drops in oxygen saturation while you sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea may have trouble falling asleep, frequent awakenings during sleeping, and/or a lack of sleep after waking up.” Sleep apnea may make things worse for other sleep disorders like sleep walking or restless legs syndrome since it disrupts sleep, in addition to making you feel tired and unrested throughout the day.

According to Fotinakes, a person with severe sleep apnea may have 500 arousals during an 8-hour period of sleep. In “In “milder” situations, you can have 15 arousals per hour, which implies the patient is still waking up every 4 minutes during their sleep period, which results in a sizable amount of sleep fragmentation. Think about waking up 120 times in an 8-hour sleep cycle “He claims.

According to Fotinakes, REM sleep periods are when arousals are more frequent and sleep apnea is often worse. Your eyes move quickly when you’re sleeping in REM, thus the phrase rapid eye movement. You dream when you are in this deep slumber state.” Every 70 to 120 minutes, we undergo REM cycles. With each cycle, the length of each REM phase lengthens. As a result, the majority of REM sleep occurs in the last few hours before waking. “

The commencement of REM sleep and the amount of time you spend in that deep, restorative period of sleep may both be delayed by sleep apnea. According to Fotinakes, sleep apnea “results in a considerable degree of fragmentation during REM phases.”


Treatment for sleep apnea may be accomplished in a number of ways. Continuous positive airway pressure treatment is the most widespread and often most efficient of these. This entails sleeping with a mask covering your lips and nose. The mask is connected to a machine that inflates the throat and keeps it from collapsing by pumping air into it via a tube.

Some people may also have the option of surgery or dental appliances. In order to relieve strain on their airways, obese or overweight patients are frequently counseled to lose weight.

According to Fotinakes, when you finally obtain treatment for sleep apnea, your brain will make an effort to make up for the poor quality of sleep you’ve been getting for months or years. “When starting CPAP therapy, it’s not uncommon for a person to have hours-long REM phases. Their brains are essentially starving for REM sleep, thus the brain recovers when the REM-specific sleep disruption brought on by sleep apnea is removed.”

An expert’s view on sleep apnea

The Four Ideal Positions for Sleeping

You may alter a few aspects of your everyday routine in addition to receiving therapy from a CPAP machine or other device, which can significantly reduce the severity of your sleep apnea. Everyone has a preferred sleeping position, but altering it may assist with sleep apnea symptoms and snoring reduction.

The following four postures are the best for reducing sleep apnea:

  1. To the left of you.
  2. To the right of you.
  3. On your stomach.
  4. Only with your head up, on your back.

Gravity makes sleep apnea worse when you’re supine (lying on your back), according to Tsai. “The symptoms of sleep apnea may be less severe if you sleep on your side since the tongue slips back and clogs the airway. Fotinakes continues, “In many instances, sleeping on your side or in a prone posture (on your stomach) may minimize or even completely eradicate snoring and sleep apnea.”

It may be uncomfortable to sleep on your stomach, and some people who attempt it complain of stiff necks when they wake up. When laying face down, using a very thin cushion or a pillow designed especially for stomach sleepers may assist ease neck tension.

You’ll probably want a bigger pillow to support your head and neck while you sleep on your side. To maintain themselves in the proper posture, some individuals choose to snuggle up to a big body cushion. Do some research and test out a few pillows to discover one that feels comfortable for you. There are several pillows that are sold expressly for treating sleep apnea difficulties.

Try raising the head of the bed if you must sleep on your back since some individuals with sleep apnea also have acid reflux and doing so is often advised to lessen the symptoms of that illness, suggests Tsai. “Sleep apnea symptoms may be improved by sleeping with the head as high and upright as possible, such as on an adjustable bed or in a chair.” The proper posture that maintains a more open airway may be achieved with the use of wedge-shaped pillows composed of foam rather to a squishier substance. To get the appropriate height to minimize sleep apnea symptoms, some individuals even raise the head of a regular bed using bricks or a bed riser.

Finding the best, most comfortable posture that reduces discomfort could require some trial and error. Till you discover what works for you, keep experimenting.

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