What is sleep apnea? This term refers to a sleeping disorder that is a breathing related sleep disorder. Correcting this sleep condition can improve your health and aging experience. The word apnea means ‘without breathe‘.
The first of the breathing related sleep disorder is obstructive sleep apnea.
What does sleep (obstructive type) apnea mean? This is a common sleep disorder that affects aging men more that women, and institutionalized aging adults versus those that live independently at home. This is a sleeping disorder in which the airway becomes blocked by relaxed throat muscles or tongue or a narrowing of the throat, nose or mouth. The aging adults stops breathing for a few seconds to as long over 1 minute.
With this type of breathing related sleep disorder, the body struggles for air, the aging adult may briefly awaken, and their breathing starts again. This can occur several times to hundreds of times a night. The aging adult may not even remember experiencing awakening those multiple times.
Research has shown that obstructive sleep apnea can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, irregular heart beat and problems with impaired memory, balance, manual dexterity and concentration.
Autonomic sleep apnea is another form of obstructive of this disorder. It is also a breathing related sleep disorder. This form of sleep occurs in individuals over the age of 60 and is more common in aging adults with some form of dementia. While sleeping, the brain does not communicate to the breathing muscles to move and take in oxygen. This most likely occurs due to degeneration of the brain stem area, where breathing is regulated. The lack of oxygen awakens the aging adult and breathing resumes. The aging adult may or may not remember awakening, but does not understand why that woke up.
What are the signs
The signs of these sleeping disorders are:
- Loud snoring followed by a stop in breathing, then a gasp for air and return to normal breathing again
- In autonomic sleep apnea there may or may not be any snoring
- Restlessness while sleeping
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Excessive daytime sleepiness, even unintentional napping
- High blood pressure
What to do
Correcting these sleeping disorders will depend on the severity of the problem and the other existing health/medical conditions of the aging adult.
How can correcting sleep problems improve your health and aging?
Treatments that improves sleep, prevents the decrease in oxygen intake and decreases the multiple awakenings at night. This contributes to improved cognitive functioning, improved memory and concentration, and decreases the chances of developing other medical conditions such as stroke and high blood pressure.
- Use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) this machine allows for air pressure to keep the airway open and stop the periods of apnea from occuring.
- Weight loss can make a difference
- Oral appliances that keep your airway open, keeps your tongue from blocking your airway, or helps keep your jaw in alignment so that it is pulled forward to prevent airway blockage
- Avoid the use of sedatives and alcohol use. These can increase the episodes of sleep disorder periods.
- There is surgery that can widen the airway
- Taking a smoking cessation course
Sleep apnea sleeping disorder is treatable. Taking the steps to correct your sleep apnea can and improve your health and aging process.