5 Tips For Battling Sleep Apnea Disorder

Sleep apnea disorder is a common sleep disorder that affects people of all ages. We spoke to Reena Mehra, M.D. and medical director of the Adult Sleep Laboratory of the University Hospitals of Cleveland, for one approach to the medical problems from which you or your loved ones may suffer when trying to sleep.

If you think you might have sleep apnea disorder, use this as a reference point before getting personalized medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Saira Bajwa

Although several variations of sleep apnea exist, the most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder that causes the sleeper to stop breathing intermittently. This happens when throat muscles relax too much during sleep and eventually collapse, cutting off the oxygen supply. The lack of oxygen in the body alerts the brain to send signals for blocked airway muscles to tense up, thus awakening the sleeper throughout the night and resulting in a very fragmented sleep. The only way to diagnose and treat sleep apnea with certainty is to let an expert conduct a sleep trial.

Don't Sleep On Your Back

Gravity will simply work against you if you suffer from sleep apnea and continue to lie on your back every night. "Airways that are prone to blockage are more likely to collapse when you lie on your back," says Dr. Mehra. "Stay off your back and sleep on your side if you're having trouble sleeping."

Lose Weight

Obesity is directly related to sleep apnea and is one of the major contributing factors in this sleep disorder. "The rule of thumb is that losing 10 percent of your weight will improve your apnea by 30 percent and the opposite also holds true, so gaining 10 percent of your body weight will worsen your sleep apnea by 30 percent," says Dr. Mehra. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will improve the overall quality of your sleep.

Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol exacerbates many sleep disorders, including sleep apnea. Dr. Mehra says to "avoid alcohol if you think you suffer from this disorder. Narcotics, pain medications and many anti-anxiety medications can also cause side effects that are very disruptive to sleep."

Don't Ignore Drowsiness

By affecting the quality of your sleep, sleep apnea results in excessive daytime sleepiness. Those who suffer from this disorder feel tired regardless of how many hours they have slept. Dr. Mehra emphasizes the importance of seeking help before you seriously injure yourself or others. "Sleep deprivation causes drowsy driving and can cause the most immediate harm," she says. It might also help to ask your loved ones about your sleep behaviors. Common sleep behaviors associated with sleep apnea include chronic snoring, gasping, choking or temporary arousals from sleep, according to Dr. Mehra.

Participate In A Sleep Study

Dr. Mehra recommends participating in a sleep study to accurately diagnose sleep apnea. "Treatment for sleep apnea could include a particular ventilation therapy known as continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP," she says. "The patient wears a mask which applies pressure to the airways and prevents them from collapsing."

Reena Mehra, M.D., M.S., is an associate professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine as well as the medical director of the Adult Sleep Laboratory of the University Hospitals of Cleveland. Dr. Mehra also spends a substantial amount of time researching the relationship between sleep-disordered breathing and heart disease.

Have you ever suffered from sleep apnea disorder? What worked for you?