It’s a well-known problem that many people today don’t get enough sleep. Yet even the hours we spend sleeping might not be as restful as we think.
A condition known as sleep apnea causes temporary breathing lapses, which reduces your body’s oxygen intake and quality of sleep. Reportedly, it only affects 2-9% of adults, but it naturally goes underreported since even those who suffer from it may be unaware of the condition.
Maybe you have a partner who’s being kept awake by the noise of your snoring or grinding teeth at night, and their complaints hint at the problem. Or you wake up with intense jaw pain, and an emergency trip to the dental office reveals the underlying issue.
More likely, though, you don’t even know if your lack of a good night’s rest might be linked to sleep apnea. Fortunately, making some positive lifestyle changes can deal with this issue without having to confirm it.
It’s easy to dismiss a restless evening in bed as just a minor inconvenience. In the big picture, there are more important matters to worry about. We have jobs that let us earn a living and social commitments and recreational activities to enrich our lives. Sometimes, sacrificing a few hours of sleep lets you devote more time and energy to these things. It seems like a worthwhile exchange.
The problem is that such sleep compromises are rarely one-off events. They become habitual, and when associated with an underlying condition like sleep apnea, they are chronic. And the long-term issues can spiral into myriad, ever-worsening complications.
Simply feeling drowsy or fatigued during the day can impair productivity and decision-making and is associated with a risk of vehicle accidents twice or thrice the normal rate. But the complications extend beyond that. Sleep apnea is associated with dementia, depression, and other mental health disorders, as well as obesity, increased risk of stroke, hypertension, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.
Think about it, and you’ll realize how alarming the problem can be. Chronic lack of sleep is bad enough, but with sleep apnea, you’re actually short-circuiting your body and depriving it of oxygen on a nightly basis. All the while, you’re clueless as to what’s going on.
Interventions and risk factors
There are some interventions to correct sleep apnea, allowing you to enjoy more restorative evenings. The simplest is to change your position and avoid sleeping on your back, which aggravates sleep apnea. But you can’t always control this.
Doctors might prescribe mouth guards to reduce teeth grinding and help keep the tongue and mandible in place. A device called a CPAP mask can be worn during sleep to similarly maintain airflow. Surgery is also an option, targeting the mandible, uvula, or tonsils to prevent respiratory blockage.
But as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.
Many of the risk factors for sleep apnea are indeed uncontrollable. Our genes or early life events can determine factors such as jaw alignment, tongue, or tonsil size. But that only underscores the importance of the factors we can control.
Consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, for instance, can greatly increase the risk of developing sleep apnea. Unhealthy eating habits can easily push us towards being overweight. All of these are amplified by higher-order influences, such as our environments, the people we spend time with, and the amount of work-related stress handled.
An emphasis on lifestyle change
Quitting substance consumption is difficult if you resort to willpower alone. But when you receive support and reinforcement, it becomes easier to manage the transition and sustain the change permanently.
That could mean removing negative lifestyle influences, like hanging out with the wrong crowd or taking on too much responsibility at work. At the same time, you can introduce new, positive elements into your lifestyle. Besides being good for your health in general, regular exercise helps to keep off the excess pounds. A practice such as yoga specifically focuses on breathing, which lets you develop better respiratory strength.
Research indicates that you can resolve issues with sleep apnea simply by adhering to a modified diet, possibly for as little as 3 months. The modifications restrict intake of junk foods, refined sugar and grains, and starchy carbohydrates in general. Anti-inflammatory foods like ginger, turmeric, and garlic are recommended.
Thus, changing your lifestyle literally has the power to deal with this problem in your sleep. You don’t even need to know for certain if obstructed breathing is at the root of your sleep troubles. Make the right changes, and you’ll witness improvements in sleep quality in any case.