Sleep apnea is a condition characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. During these episodes, the body briefly rouses you so you can resume breathing. This condition causes symptoms such as loud snoring, dry mouth/throat, daytime sleepiness, headache, trouble paying attention and irritability. There are other effects sleep apnea has on the body, which we overview below.
Because sleep apnea deprives your body of oxygen during sleep, respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are often exacerbated. It’s common for people with these conditions and sleep apnea to find themselves short of breath or have trouble exercising.
People who have sleep apnea are at greater risk of developing an insulin resistance, which means the cells don’t respond to the hormone as well, causing blood sugar levels to rise. This puts you at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Those with sleep apnea are also more likely to have liver scarring, fatty liver disease or high levels of liver enzymes. Sleep apnea can also worsen heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can further interrupt sleep.
Research shows that sleep apnea is closely linked to obesity and high blood pressure, as well as abnormal heart rhythm, heart failure and stroke.
Central sleep apnea is caused by a disruption in the signals from the brain that tell your body to breathe. This type of sleep apnea is associated with neurological symptoms like numbness and tingling.
Sleep apnea can lower your sex drive, and in men it may contribute to erectile dysfunction.
Getting Help for Sleep Apnea
It’s important to seek treatment promptly in order to reduce your risk of the side effects listed above. Fortunately, there are many options for treating sleep apnea:
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Moderate to severe sleep apnea can be treated with a CPAP machine. It works by delivering air pressure through a mask to keep your upper airway passages open.
- Oral appliances. These work by keeping your throat open by advancing the jaw. It may take time to find an appliance that is the right fit.
- In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve symptoms.