What are the causes for sleep apnea?
There is an association with snoring and sleep apnea because it's the same muscles involved. Snoring is not as serious as apnea except when the snorer's partner gets fed up enough to bang the snorer over the head with the alarm clock as either the snorer nor the apnea sufferer will likely be aware of their condition.
It's the muscles in the upper airway passage that are not as strong as they should be which cause the airway to narrow and close temporarily. This causes a halt in the breathing for 10 to 25 minutes which results in a reduction of oxygen to the brain.
The brain then sends out an emergency signal which raises the person forcing a gasp of air to balance the oxygen debt. The sufferer does not need to wake up fully and these events can happen 300 or more times in a session.
Although the apnea sufferer may not be aware of the night-time events they may recognize symptoms such as waking up with a dry throat and mouth in the morning, headaches and sweatiness.
The muscles in the pharynx which lack muscle tone and are at the heart of the problem may be like that for one of two reasons.
It may be that the physiological make-up predisposes the individual for the condition or it may be a problem that has developed due to the sufferer's lifestyle or it could have been a combination of both.
So physiologically anyone with a mild abnormality to the facial structure which affects the passage of air is susceptible to the condition. This could mean a backset jaw or what is commonly known as an overbite, the shape of the hard palate, large tonsils, adenoids and tongue, any inherent nasal blockage as well as the general size and shape of the middle of the face and neck.
From a lifestyle point of view obesity is the most important factor associated with apnea sufferers followed by alcohol consumption and smoking. The three big no-no's are culpable once more – not surprising really.
People with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more are considered obese and more at risk from sleep apnea and if the weight distribution is centred around the waist as opposed to the hips the risk is greater.
Alcohol can reduce the activity of the upper airway and relax the muscles responsible for stopping the airway from closing. In extreme cases excessive and continuous drinking could suppress the breathing reflex. This respiratory drive can also be similarly affected by so called sleeping pills, tranquilizers and short-acting beta blockers.
What are the treatments for sleep apnea?
For mild to severe cases of apnea it's widely accepted that the use of a continuous positive airway pressure device is the best treatment for the serious consequences of sleep apnea.
As the name suggests it's a machine that generates timed air pressure via a mask keeping the upper airway open during sleep.
There are a variety of devices and masks any one of which can be fitted for your particular needs.
It does not cure the sufferer but allows the individual to get the intense benefits allowed to those that sleep properly. This means that he or she (more likely to be a he) will not be so at risk for conditions like high blood pressure (CPAP), heart attacks, strokes and diminished memory and intellect.
In mild cases lifestyle changes can be made to temper or even cure the problem so weight loss and a healthy diet with regular exercise are recommended. Cutting down on alcohol especially before bed and quitting smoking is always a good idea. Watch the type of drugs which are used specifically sedatives.
If possible asleep on the side rather than the back may help.
If the problem is with the structure of the jaw it's possible to get a device fitted that looks and feels like a sports mouth guard called a mandibular advancement device (MAD). This allows the lower jaw to be drawn and kept in a more forward position. It's used to treated apnea, snoring and bruxism (teeth grinding).
Are there any other options?
There are also some more unusual techniques that are worth trying specifically as they have been proven to be affective in certain cases and are not invasive as is the case with CPAP machines.
Breathing techniques have been studied and developed that can instill in someone a breathing pattern that comes from the belly instead of short breath made from the chest. This process helps tone the muscles of the airway.
What about singing? It seems logical that anything that strengthens the relevant muscles are going to be affective in treating apnea and although it's been shown that there is a positive link between singers, singing and the absence of apnea opinions are still divided.
Sleep apnea can be very serious and in rare cases fatal. It is more common than asthma or diabetes and it is increasingly so in the western world which may be a link to lifestyles.
The most effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is the CPAP device which a lot of people find uncomfortable. Any evidence, even anecdotal of solutions to this increasing problem would have been welcomed by a huge number of sufferers.