According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 1 in 15 adults in the United States have sleep apnea. That’s more than 18 million people who currently struggle with abnormal breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea is characterized by temporary lapses in breathing, which can ultimately lead to serious health consequences. Untreated, the condition has been linked to heart disease, memory loss, obesity, and high blood pressure. Because of these risks, it is essential to see a sleep specialist if you or your doctor suspects you have sleep apnea.
Like many disorders, you can also make lifestyle changes that may mitigate your symptoms and help you get a better night’s sleep. Here’s a list of the top five things that can exacerbate sleep apnea:
Alcohol increases muscle relaxation, including the muscles of the throat. In addition, drinking close to bedtime may make the airway more vulnerable to obstruction during sleep and cause more frequent lapses in breathing. Cutting down on alcohol, especially at night, can help prevent these adverse effects.
Although thin people can also develop the disorder, about 60-90% of patients with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight. Excess fat around the neck can make the airway more vulnerable to collapse as muscles relax during sleep, putting obese individuals at a much higher risk.
Sleeping on your side will typically ease sleep apnea symptoms, while sleeping on your back makes it worse. The idea is that sleeping on your back allows your tongue to relax further back and obstruct your airway, making it more difficult to breathe.
We all know that smoking isn’t good for you. Cigarettes are direct irritants to the throat and upper airway and can be a powerful trigger for patients suffering from breathing disorders. As it turns out, smoking can also raise your risk of developing sleep apnea and is the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Taking muscle relaxants or sleeping pills makes it harder to arouse from sleep, which in turn causes episodes of sleep apnea to last longer. Prescription painkillers, particularly opioids, can also be problematic, as they often cause respiratory suppression and make it even more challenging to restore normal breathing.
How We Can Help
If you’re experiencing sleep apnea symptoms, we offer a wide variety of treatments to improve your quality of sleep. Contact us today to schedule a sleep study with one of our certified sleep specialists and find out how you can start sleeping better.