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What You Should Know About Sleep Apnea

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterised by interruptions in breathing during sleep. These interruptions, known as apneas, occur when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, leading to partial or complete cessation of breathing. The pauses in breathing can last for a few seconds to minutes and may occur multiple times throughout the night.

There are three main types of sleep apnea:

  1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This is the most common form of sleep apnea. It occurs when the muscles in the throat relax excessively, causing the airway to narrow or close completely. As a result, the person experiences shallow breathing or stops breathing altogether until the brain detects the lack of oxygen and signals the body to wake up briefly to reopen the airway. These awakenings are often so brief that the person may not even remember them.
  2. Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): Unlike OSA, CSA is not caused by a physical blockage of the airway. Instead, it occurs when the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles responsible for controlling breathing. This disruption in communication leads to lapses in breathing during sleep.
  3. Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome (also called Mixed Sleep Apnea): This is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea. It starts as obstructive sleep apnea but transitions to include central sleep apnea after treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.

Sleep apnea can have serious consequences if left untreated. It disrupts normal sleep patterns, leading to daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. It is also associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and other health issues.

Detail symptoms from sleep apnea

Sleep apnea can manifest with a variety of symptoms, and these can vary in severity from person to person. The symptoms of sleep apnea are often more pronounced in obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common type of sleep apnea. Here are some of the key symptoms associated with sleep apnea:

  1. Loud and persistent snoring: Snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea, particularly in OSA. The snoring is usually loud, disruptive, and may be more noticeable when the person sleeps on their back.
  2. Pauses in breathing: This is a hallmark symptom of sleep apnea. It refers to the repeated episodes during sleep when breathing stops or becomes shallow due to the obstruction of the airway.
  3. Gasping or choking sensations: As breathing is interrupted, the person may awaken abruptly with a sensation of gasping for air or choking. These awakenings are usually brief and may not be recalled by the individual.
  4. Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS): Sleep apnea disrupts the normal sleep cycle, leading to poor sleep quality. As a result, people with sleep apnea often experience daytime sleepiness and may struggle to stay awake during the day, even if they had what seemed like a full night’s sleep.
  5. Fatigue and lack of energy: Due to disrupted sleep patterns, individuals with sleep apnea may feel consistently tired and find it challenging to maintain their usual levels of energy and productivity.
  6. Morning headaches: Sleep apnea can lead to oxygen desaturation during sleep, which may cause headaches upon waking in the morning.
  7. Dry mouth or sore throat: Breathing through the mouth, which is common in sleep apnea, can result in a dry mouth or sore throat upon waking.
  8. Difficulty concentrating and memory problems: The disrupted sleep and reduced oxygen levels can affect cognitive function, leading to difficulties with concentration, memory, and decision-making.
  9. Irritability and mood changes: Sleep apnea can cause irritability, mood swings, and even depression due to the chronic sleep deprivation and its impact on emotional well-being.
  10. Insomnia: Some individuals with sleep apnea may experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even if they feel fatigued during the day.

It’s important to note that not everyone with sleep apnea will experience all of these symptoms, and some individuals may be unaware that they have the condition.

Sleep apnea
Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea has increased over the years

There is evidence suggesting that sleep apnea is becoming more prevalent. Several factors have contributed to this increase:

  1. Aging population: Sleep apnea becomes more common as people age. As the global population continues to age, the prevalence of sleep apnea naturally increases.
  2. Rising obesity rates: Obesity is a significant risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With the increasing prevalence of obesity worldwide, the incidence of OSA has also been on the rise.
  3. Increased awareness and screening: As awareness about sleep apnea and its potential health consequences has grown, more individuals are seeking medical evaluation and diagnosis. This has led to more cases being identified and reported.
  4. Lifestyle changes: Modern lifestyles, including sedentary behaviour, poor dietary habits, and increased screen time, can contribute to sleep disturbances and exacerbate sleep apnea.
  5. Changes in diagnostic criteria: Evolving diagnostic criteria and improved diagnostic methods may have contributed to better identification and reporting of sleep apnea cases.

Is there a link between sleep apnea and developing other diseases?

Yes, there is a strong link between sleep apnea and the development of other diseases and health conditions. Sleep apnea, particularly obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), can have a significant impact on various systems in the body, leading to several health risks. Some of the common diseases and conditions associated with sleep apnea include:

  1. Cardiovascular diseases: Sleep apnea is strongly linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular problems, including hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary artery disease, heart failure, and stroke. The repeated episodes of oxygen deprivation and increased stress on the cardiovascular system during apneas can contribute to these conditions.
  2. Type 2 diabetes: Sleep apnea has been linked to insulin resistance and glucose metabolism issues, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  3. Obesity: Obesity is a risk factor for sleep apnea, but sleep apnea can also worsen obesity due to disrupted sleep patterns affecting hormones that regulate hunger and satiety.
  4. Metabolic syndrome: This cluster of conditions, including abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol levels, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Sleep apnea is linked to an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
  5. Cognitive impairments: Chronic sleep apnea can lead to cognitive problems, memory deficits, difficulties with attention and concentration, and an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
  6. Mood disorders: Sleep apnea can contribute to mood disorders, including depression and anxiety, due to the negative impact on sleep quality and overall well-being.
  7. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of GERD, a condition where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing symptoms like heartburn.
  8. Daytime fatigue and accidents: The disrupted sleep and daytime sleepiness caused by sleep apnea can increase the risk of accidents, both on the road and in other activities requiring alertness.

It’s important to emphasise that not everyone with sleep apnea will develop these conditions, but the risk of developing them is higher among individuals with untreated or poorly managed sleep apnea. Proper diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea are essential to mitigate these risks and improve overall health outcomes.

Medicinal approach to treating sleep apnea

The primary medical approach to treating sleep apnea involves using various therapies to address the underlying causes of the condition and alleviate its symptoms. The choice of treatment depends on the type and severity of sleep apnea and may involve a combination of approaches. Some common medicinal approaches to treating sleep apnea include:

  1. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): CPAP therapy is one of the most widely used treatments for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It involves wearing a mask connected to a machine that delivers a continuous stream of air into the airway, preventing it from collapsing during sleep. CPAP keeps the airway open, reducing or eliminating apneas and improving sleep quality.
  2. Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP): BiPAP therapy is similar to CPAP but delivers two different pressure levels—one for inhalation and a lower one for exhalation. BiPAP is often used for individuals who have trouble tolerating CPAP or require different pressure settings during their breathing cycle.
  3. Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV): ASV is a more advanced form of positive airway pressure therapy that uses specialised devices to automatically adjust pressure support based on the patient’s breathing patterns. It is mainly used for treating complex sleep apnea syndrome, which involves a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.
  4. Oral Appliances: For some cases of mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea, oral appliances, also known as dental devices, can be used. These devices help reposition the lower jaw and tongue to keep the airway open during sleep.
  5. Medications: Medications are generally not the primary treatment for sleep apnea, but they may be used in certain cases. For example, medications may be prescribed to address underlying conditions that contribute to sleep apnea, such as allergies or nasal congestion. In some cases of central sleep apnea related to heart failure or other medical conditions, specific medications may be used to help breathing during sleep.

It’s important to note that while medications can help manage certain aspects of sleep apnea, they do not cure the condition itself. Proper treatment often involves lifestyle modifications (e.g., weight loss, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, sleep position changes).

What are some natural approach to treating sleep apnea?

Here are some natural approaches that may help alleviate sleep apnea symptoms:

  1. Weight management: Obesity is a significant risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea. Losing weight, if overweight or obese, can reduce the severity of sleep apnea and improve breathing during sleep.
  2. Sleep position: Avoiding sleeping on your back (supine position) can help prevent the airway from collapsing and reduce the frequency of apneas. Sleeping on your side or using positional therapy aids, such as a body pillow, may be beneficial.
  3. Lifestyle changes: Avoiding alcohol, sedatives, and heavy meals close to bedtime can reduce the relaxation of the throat muscles, which may help in preventing airway obstruction during sleep.
  4. Nasal congestion management: Keeping the nasal passages clear can enhance airflow during sleep. Saline nasal rinses or nasal strips can be helpful in relieving nasal congestion.
  5. Regular exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity can contribute to weight management, improve cardiovascular health, and potentially reduce sleep apnea severity.
  6. Quitting smoking: Smoking can contribute to inflammation and swelling of the airways, exacerbating sleep apnea. Quitting smoking can help improve respiratory health.
  7. Elevating the head of the bed: Raising the head of the bed by using pillows or an adjustable bed frame can help reduce the likelihood of airway collapse during sleep.
  8. Throat exercises: Some studies suggest that certain throat exercises may help strengthen the muscles in the throat and improve airway stability during sleep. Examples of exercises include singing exercises and playing certain wind instruments.
  9. Herbal remedies: Some herbal supplements, such as valerian root or chamomile tea, have mild sedative effects that may promote better sleep. However, consult with a healthcare professional before using herbal remedies, especially if you are taking medications or have underlying health conditions.
  10. Relaxation techniques: Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation, before bedtime can help reduce stress and anxiety, potentially improving sleep quality.

List of medicinal herbs used for sleep apnea

Here are some medicinal herbs that have been traditionally used to promote better sleep and relaxation:

  1. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): Valerian is a well-known herb that has been used as a mild sedative and sleep aid. It may help improve sleep quality and reduce sleep latency (time taken to fall asleep).
  2. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla): Chamomile is often consumed as a tea and is believed to have calming effects that can promote relaxation and better sleep.
  3. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): Lavender is known for its pleasant fragrance and potential calming effects. Lavender essential oil or sachets can be used to create a calming sleep environment.
  4. Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata): Passionflower is believed to have mild sedative effects and is used traditionally to promote relaxation and sleep.
  5. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis): Lemon balm is often used as a tea or supplement and is considered a gentle relaxant that may aid in sleep.
  6. California poppy (Eschscholzia californica): California poppy is a herb that has been used to promote relaxation and support restful sleep.
  7. Hops (Humulus lupulus): Hops are often associated with beer production, but they have also been used as a natural sleep aid due to their mild sedative properties.
  8. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that may help reduce stress and anxiety, potentially improving sleep quality.
  9. Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): Skullcap is believed to have calming effects and has been used in traditional herbal medicine for promoting relaxation and better sleep.
  10. Kava (Piper methysticum): Kava is a traditional herb from the Pacific islands that may have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) properties and could potentially aid in relaxation and sleep.

If someone suspects they may have sleep apnea, they should seek evaluation and potentially undergo a sleep study, which involves monitoring various physiological parameters during sleep to diagnose the condition properly. Treatment options may include lifestyle changes, the use of CPAP machines, dental appliances, or surgery, depending on the severity and type of sleep apnea and medicinal plants.


– American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM): The AASM is a professional association for sleep medicine physicians and researchers. Website:
– National Sleep Foundation (NSF): The NSF is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting better sleep health. Website:
– National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI): The NHLBI, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), provides information on various sleep disorders, including sleep apnea. Website:
– Mayo Clinic: The Mayo Clinic is a medical center that offers comprehensive information on sleep apnea, including symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment options. Website:
– WebMD: WebMD is a popular health website that covers a wide range of medical topics, including sleep apnea. Website:
– This website is run by the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) and offers information, support, and resources for individuals with sleep apnea and their families. Website:
– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The CDC provides data, statistics, and information on sleep and sleep disorders, including sleep apnea. Website:

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