Sleep apnea, also called obstructive sleep apnea, is a disorder that causes interruptions of normal breathing during sleep. Symptoms include:
- Heavy snoring
- Periods of not breathing
- Waking frequently during the night or experiencing fitful sleep
- Feeling sleepy or not well-rested during the day
Depending on how often and for how long you stop breathing, sleep apnea can be classified as mild, moderate or severe. It affects both men and women, can occur at any age, and has been linked to an increased risk of fragmented sleep and restlessness, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Even mild sleep apnea can cause associated sleep disturbances, leading to depression, irritability, sexual problems and impaired learning and memory. Common factors linked to sleep apnea include being overweight or obese; having an anatomical abnormality in the nose, throat or elsewhere in the upper airway; use of certain medications, particularly sedatives; sleeping on your back; and using alcohol before bed.
There are many options available to help address apnea, including lifestyle measures to lose weight and simple medical devices that can be worn at night to keep the airways open. Dr. Weil recommends these tactics for tackling sleep apnea:
- If you're overweight, lose some of the excess pounds. According to the American Sleep Foundation, even a 10 percent weight loss can reduce the nightly breathing interruptions.
- Avoid alcohol before bedtime.
- Talk to your pharmacist about the side effects of any medications you are taking.
- Discontinue use of sleeping pills.
- Develop good sleep habits, including sleeping on your side, getting enough quality rest, and developing - and sticking to - a bedtime and sleep schedule.
In addition, get your blood pressure under control through diet, regular moderate exercise and healthy lifestyle choices.