Feeling tired all the time?
- If you snore but don't have other symptoms of sleep apnea, you may not need a sleep study. Lifestyle changes may reduce your snoring. Examples of changes you can try are losing weight (if needed), avoiding alcohol and sedating medicines before going to bed, sleeping on your side, and going to bed at the same time every night. • A sleep study is the only sure way to find out if you have sleep apnea. If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, including being very tired and sleepy during the day, your doctor will probably suggest a Home Sleep study. • You may want to know if you have sleep apnea, because it has been linked with other health problems including high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, heart failure, and depression. It also can lead to car accidents. • If you know that you have sleep apnea, you can treat it. Treatment usually helps people who have sleep apnea and may lower your risk of problems such as high blood pressure or stroke.
Know the warning signs of sleep apnea and when to talk to your doctor about getting a sleep test
Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente
If you’re feeling excessively sleepy during the daytime yet you feel like you’re properly sleeping, eating and exercising, you might consider talking to your doctor about sleep apnea.
This chronic daytime fatigue might come in the form of a strong desire to nap, extreme fatigue while watching TV or reading, and feeling heavily fatigued while driving, said Dr. Shannon Garton, Family Medicine Physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Edwards Medical Offices. It’s also common for a patient with sleep apnea to wake up feeling unrefreshed.
Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which a person has shallow breaths or one or more pauses in breathing — lasting from a few seconds to minutes — while sleeping. This can occur 30 times or more per hour, Garton said.
If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause an increase in the risks of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes and heart failure. It also can make irregular heartbeats more likely and increase the chance of work-related or driving accidents.
“It is very important that a patient gets evaluated for sleep apnea if there is a possibility that they have it,” Garton said. “Untreated sleep apnea can have bad consequences, and it can cause a person to feel very tired and unwell on a daily basis.”
There are two types of sleep apnea that are more common at high altitudes — obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. The most prevalent symptom of sleep apnea is a history of daytime fatigue.
“When a person is being evaluated for sleep apnea, it is important that they get evaluated at the altitude where they are actually sleeping, and therefore in the mountain region a home-based sleep study is typically preferred,” Garton said. “In our region with high altitude, it is more common that people who are of normal body weight may have sleep apnea and there also remains an increased risk in patients who are overweight.”
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea and it’s most common in overweight people, although it can affect anyone, Garton said. With this type of sleep apnea, the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep, causing shallow breathing or breathing pauses.
“When you try to breathe, any air that squeezes past the blockage can cause loud snoring,” she said.
Central sleep apnea is when the brain does not send a proper signal, and a patient just stops breathing while asleep.
“If a patient has the obstructive type of sleep apnea, often they snore, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea,” Garton said. “If a person does snore, it is important that they are evaluated for other symptoms of sleep apnea to see if it warrants having a sleep study done to evaluate for the condition.”
While sleep apnea is a chronic condition that requires long-term management, Garton said patients can improve with proper treatment. The way doctors treat the condition depends on the severity, she said.
“Sometimes in more minor cases, positional changes or mouth guards may suffice to treat. In other cases, a patient may need to use an APAP (Automatic Positive Airway Pressure) machine which helps to keep the airway open by putting more air into the airway,” Garton said. “Weight loss can often be helpful. Sometimes weight loss can be difficult in a patient that has sleep apnea because they may feel too fatigued to exercise. So if a patient is not able to lose enough weight to make the sleep apnea improve, it is best to do a medical treatment.”
With the right treatment, those with sleep apnea will begin to feel more awake and energetic. High blood pressure can improve, and patients might find more success at losing weight due to increased energy to exercise.
Talk to your doctor to determine if sleep apnea testing is right for you.
“In the Kaiser system in the mountain region, we feel that this is such an important medical condition which needs to be properly evaluated and treated, that we have attained the equipment necessary so that we can get home-based sleep studies for our patients,” Garton said.