Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which a person stops and starts breathing several times an hour during sleep. These pauses in breathing might only last a few seconds but can last as much as several minutes. Sleep apnea makes getting a good night’s rest impossible and if left untreated can result in some very serious health issues. It is a condition that affects roughly 1 in 5 adults, so chances are that you or a loved one suffers from sleep apnea. With it being such a common condition you might be wondering: How can I prevent sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is not just a condition for overweight men who snore. It’s true that those factors do increase your risks, but sleep apnea is far less picky than that. In fact, this stereotype is perhaps one of the most prevalent misconceptions about sleep apnea. The following factors increase your risk of developing sleep apnea:
Your genes play a big role in how likely you or a loved one are to develop sleep apnea. They decide everything about you from physical traits like your hair and eye color down to how you perceive certain tastes and smells. But how do they affect your risk factors for sleep apnea?
Most people who suffer from this type of sleep-disordered breathing have what doctors call Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA. With OSA breathing stops and starts because the airway has become partially or completely blocked. This blockage might occur at any point in the airway such as the sinuses, mouth, or back of the throat. Certain genetic conditions or birth defects can cause the airway to be unusually narrow. A smaller airway means it takes less for your airway to become blocked. So other factors like nasal swelling or soft palate collapse will have a greater affect on your breathing.
While many family related risk factors technically fall under the category of genetics, family factors extend beyond just your genes. Many risk factors for sleep apnea are heavily influenced by family culture. Family culture refers to the traditions, habits, and values you have as a family. Whether genetically predisposed or not, family culture affects your risk of many conditions that lead to sleep apnea. How active is your family? Do your traditions revolve around food? What is your family diet like? How does your family culture affect your sleep hygiene? Your answers to these questions may help you identify certain risk factors. If you or a loved one has sleep apnea, chances are family culture played a part.
Many lifestyle choices can increase your risk of sleep apnea in ways you might not have considered. For example, the use of alcohol, tranquilizers, or sleep aids cause the body to relax more than usual. Where this becomes problematic is when the muscles of the throat and neck relax too much. Smoking and drug use also increase your risks. Smoking causes swelling in the airway and triples your risk of sleep apnea. Opiates, especially long-acting ones like methadone, also increase your risk.
Having certain health issues can increase your risk of developing sleep apnea. Uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke can increase your risks. These health issues are also known complications from having untreated sleep apnea. Even something as seemingly benign as seasonal allergies can increase your risk.
Weight is a well known risk factor, but did you know you don’t have to be obese to develop obstructive sleep apnea? Studies show that a body mass index (BMI) of 25 is enough to cause difficulty breathing. The average BMI of a healthy adult should fall somewhere between 18.5 and 24.9. The greater your BMI, the greater your risk.
How To Prevent Sleep Apnea
The great news is that for most people sleep apnea is highly preventable. There are a lot of things you can do to address your risk factors. By addressing these you can prevent sleep apnea in you and your loved ones.
While you have no control over your genetic risk factors, you can take steps to counteract them. Though rare, reducing some genetic risk factors may require surgery. Surgery may be indicated if you have:
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
- Deviated septum
- Enlarged turbinates
- Nasal valve collapse
- Underdeveloped or deformed lower jaw
It is important to note that surgical correction is rare. However, if you have one of these conditions, your doctor may recommend you for surgery.
Family Culture Shift
To prevent sleep apnea it is important to address any problematic aspects of your family culture. You can reduce your risks by working together as a family to eat healthier and be more active. You might also try establishing a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine. Studies show that irregular sleep patterns nearly double your risk of heart disease. Heart disease is a known complication and contributing factor in sleep apnea.
Making healthier lifestyle choices will also help you prevent sleep apnea. Smoking is an unhealthy habit to begin with. Your doctor may already be urging you to quit. There are many smoking cessation programs out there that can help. Reducing or eliminating alcohol, especially before bed, will also help to reduce your risks. You’ll also want to pay attention to your own personal sleep habits. As mentioned above your sleep schedule matters, but so do things like sleep environment and position. Making sure your room is a comfortable temperature and humidity will help. And avoid sleeping on your back. Episodes of OSA are much more common when sleeping on your back.
Follow Your Doctor’s Orders
Certain health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease all contribute to or worse sleep apnea. Reducing your risk factors for these conditions will also help you prevent sleep apnea. If you already have one of these conditions it is important to follow your doctor’s advice to keep them well controlled.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight will help you prevent sleep apnea. Pay special attention to your BMI as well and try to keep it below 25.
Seek Medical Advice
Sleep apnea is very common, and yet a surprising 80% of cases go undiagnosed. Of the 20% who do get diagnosed it usually only comes after a major health event or the insistence of their partner. Even just the short term effects of sleep apnea can have disastrous consequences. People suffering from mild to moderate sleep apnea are twice as likely to be involved in a traffic accident. Left untreated it leads to many serious and life shortening health problems. If you or a loved one have concerns about developing sleep apnea please seek medical advice. Your doctor or a sleep apnea specialist, like those at Sleep Better Columbus, can help you identify and reduce your risks.