Do you have trouble sleeping? The repercussions can be worse than you think.
If you’re prone to loud snoring at night, or feel fatigued day after day, you may have sleep apnea—a common condition that is easily manageable, but can have serious health implications when left undiagnosed or untreated.
What is Sleep Apnea, Anyway?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition in which the upper airway is temporarily blocked and breathing reduces or stops repeatedly during sleep. Medical professionals call these pauses in breath apnea, or apneic episodes.
When your breathing is shallow or restricted during sleep, your body’s oxygen levels drop. This signals receptors in your brain to increase blood flow, which puts pressure on your blood vessels. That’s where your heart health comes in. You’re far more likely to have high blood pressure if you have sleep apnea, says West Feliciana Hospital sleep technician Laura Benton.
“Sleep apnea plays a huge role in your heart health,” says Benton, who has worked at the hospital for 15 years. As a longtime registered respiratory therapist, Benton has observed plenty of patients toss and turn at night over her thirty-year career in sleep medicine. “Nearly all patients I see who have sleep apnea also have high blood pressure.”
The Solution: Sleep Studies
In order to diagnose sleep apnea, patients normally participate in a sleep study, Benton says. Once patients are referred to her office through their primary physician, Benton schedules their sleep test, which takes place during an overnight stay at the hospital. A certified sleep specialist then analyzes and interprets the study. Patients receive their results within three to five business days.
Left untreated, sleep apnea can raise your risk for serious health problems, including hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. The good news is that there are a variety of treatments available to manage sleep apnea once diagnosed. These include weight loss through healthy diet and exercise; CPAP therapy, which uses a nasal or face mask to deliver pressurized air to the patient’s upper airway; and oral appliance therapy, which involves wearing a removable device similar to a mouth guard while sleeping.