Animated Image of a Woman Struggling to Fall Asleep Because Her Partner Has Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea:
Types, Risk Factors, and Treatment Options

Disclaimer – Nothing on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment… Read more here

Living with a diagnosed sleep disorder can make it exponentially more challenging to achieve great rest. Whether they’re preventing you from falling asleep or consistently waking you up during the night, sleep disorders may significantly impact your quality of life.

 

One of the most prevalent disorders is sleep apnea. This article will guide you through all there is to know about sleep apnea, including ways you could improve this condition on your own.

 

We’ll highlight new evidence and go over research that suggests one form of sleep apnea treatment may lower your risk of developing dementia.

Section 1

What is Sleep Apnea?

Section 2

Why is it Important to Treat Sleep Apnea?

Section 3

Sleep Apnea in Kids

Section 4

Ways to Reduce Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Section 5

Does Sleep Affect Memory?

Section 6

How Can Treating Sleep Apnea Lower Your Risk of Dementia?

Section 1

What is
Sleep Apnea?

Section 2

Why is it Important to Treat Sleep Apnea?

Section 3

Sleep Apnea
in Kids

Section 4

Ways to Reduce Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Section 5

Does Sleep Affect Memory?

Section 6

How Can Treating Sleep Apnea Lower Your Risk of Dementia?

Section 1

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea[1] is when your breathing continually starts and stops while you’re asleep. Cases can range from mild to severe. This disorder comes in three forms: Obstructive, Central, and Complex.

01

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Among the three types of sleep apnea, most people experience Obstructive. 

 

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax, which narrows your airway as you try to breathe in. This can lead to a drop in oxygen levels in your blood.

 

Your brain then catches on that you’re not breathing well, causing you to wake up to open your airway. Most people let out some sort of choke, snort, or gasp when this happens. This pattern can continue throughout the night.

02

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

The Mayo Clinic describes Central sleep apnea as a condition in which your brain doesn’t send signals to the muscles that allow you to breathe, causing you to not breathe for short periods. This can lead to shortness of breath or difficulty staying asleep.

03

Complex Sleep Apnea

This form of sleep apnea is when someone experiences both OSA and CSA. Another term for this particular disorder is Treatment-Emergent Central Sleep Apnea.

Symptoms

We’ve covered that some effects of sleep apnea are gasping for air, snorting, choking, shortness of breath, and trouble staying asleep. Additional symptoms include loud snoring, dry mouth, headaches, daytime drowsiness, difficulty focusing when awake, and irritability.

 

Learn More: Sleep Apnea Facts

Partner Can't Sleep Because The Other One Snores

Who’s Most at Risk?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Weight gain

A heavier weight can be a risk factor for OSA.

Thicker neck

People with a broader neck circumference may have a more narrow airway, possibly generating OSA.

Narrow airway

Some folks may naturally have a narrower airway even without a thick neck, making them more vulnerable to sleep apnea. In children, tonsils or adenoids may also cause an airway block.

Illustration of a Person with Breathing Disorder Sleeping

Gender

Unfortunately for men, they are 2-3 times more likely to develop sleep apnea than women. However, women are still at risk, and their chances of OSA increase with menopause or weight gain.

Age

Sleep apnea is more prevalent in older adults.

Family History

This disorder may run in your family, and if that’s the case, it can increase your odds of experiencing sleep apnea.

Alcohol Use

Alcohol can relax your throat muscles, which can cause OSA to worsen. Taking sedatives or tranquilizers also has this effect.

Smoking

People who smoke are three times more likely to develop OSA compared to non-smokers. This is because smoking causes fluid retention in the airway, which can make breathing more difficult.

Congestion

Chronic nasal congestion may also bring about sleep apnea.

illlustration of a woman strugling with allergy symptoms

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions may also create a higher risk. These include congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Polycystic ovary syndrome, hormonal disorders, stroke, and chronic lung diseases.

Central Sleep Apnea

Age

People who are middle-aged or older have a higher chance of developing this form of sleep apnea.

Gender

Central sleep apnea is more frequent in men.

Heart problems

Folks with congestive heart failure are at an increased risk.

Illustration of Tom and His Heart Having High Blood Pressure

Pain medications

The use of opioid medications may cause CSA.

Stroke

Previously experiencing a stroke also increases your likelihood of this disorder.

Section 2

Why is it Important to Treat Sleep Apnea?

The American Sleep Apnea Association reports that an estimated 22 million Americans have sleep apnea, with as much as 80 percent of those cases going undiagnosed. Not treating sleep apnea, however, may lead to severe and long-term health consequences.

Daytime Fatigue

Constantly feeling tired throughout the day can impact both your professional and personal life. For employees, drowsiness could lead to workplace mistakes, poor performance, and reduced productivity. Sleepiness could also cause you to be more moody, which could hinder your relationships with friends, family, and colleagues.

 

The consequences could also be fatal since daytime sleepiness puts you at a higher risk of getting into a car accident.

Illustration of a Woman Who Fell Asleep At Her Computer Desk

High Blood Pressure

The constant drop in oxygen levels in your blood resulting from sleep apnea puts a strain on your cardiovascular system, increasing your chances of developing high blood pressure.

Heart Problems

Not treating sleep apnea could be dangerous for your heart in other ways, too. Obstructive sleep apnea could lead to a heart attack, stroke, or irregular heartbeat.  This is especially dangerous for those with heart disease, as low oxygen in the blood may cause sudden death.

 

Get More Info: Can Sleep Apnea Kill You?

Diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes[2] is a long-term condition that affects how the body uses sugar to fuel itself. Many people living with diabetes have to regularly take insulin to help regulate their blood glucose levels since their pancreas does not produce enough insulin naturally or because their body has developed a resistance to insulin. Sleep apnea could raise your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes or becoming insulin-resistant.

A Syringes Filled with Clear Liquid Poking into the top of an Insuline Vials

Metabolic Syndrome

Sleep apnea could also result in developing a disorder known as Metabolic Syndrome. People with this condition may experience high blood pressure, abnormal levels of cholesterol, an expanded waist, high blood sugar, and an increased risk of heart disease.

Liver Problems

Folks with sleep apnea may experience issues with their liver, including abnormal test results and scarring, which is a form of nonalcoholic liver disease.

Complications with Surgery or Medications

Sleep apnea is also a concern for people who take medications or who have recently undergone surgery. OSA could disrupt certain medications or general anesthesia. Additionally, the breathing problems associated with this disorder could be dangerous for patients post-surgery who are sedated and lying on their backs. For your safety, you should inform your doctor of your sleep apnea before having surgery.

Your Partner May Lose Sleep

illustration of a woman using earplugs for blocking husbands snoring

Vocal disruptions like gasping for air or persistent snoring could cause your partner to lose sleep as well. Not only could this affect their well-being, but it may also create tension in your relationship.

Section 3

Sleep Apnea in Kids

Although sleep apnea is more common in adults, kids may also experience this disorder, which is estimated to affect 1-4 percent[3] of children. Sleep apnea is most common among kids ages 2-8.

 

Untreated sleep apnea among children may lead to mood problems, inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and poor impulse control. These kids are also put at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life.

Kids Playing on a Bunk Bed Illustration

To help, first determine whether your child snores, as this is a common sign of OSA among kids. Then, you should consult with a doctor. Due to their younger age, many kids will undergo surgery to cure sleep apnea by having their tonsils or adenoids removed.

Section 4

Ways to Reduce Sleep Apnea Symptoms

The good news is that you may be able to reduce your sleep apnea symptoms by being proactive and trying out different remedies[4] on your own.

Weight Loss

illustration of a chips bag calling a person to eat it

For those looking to lose weight and improve their overall health, here’s one more reason to do so: shedding those extra pounds could also help curb your sleep apnea. Experts say even a 10 percent reduction in weight could result in fewer symptoms.

Avoiding Alcohol and Certain Sleeping Pills

Those with Obstructive sleep apnea are advised to avoid alcohol and certain sleeping pills, as these could cause your airway to collapse, which would likely worsen your OSA.

Wedge Pillow

Investing in a top-quality wedge pillow could prove useful for milder cases of OSA in which breathing is obstructed when the sleeper lies on their back. The wedge design can provide an incline to sleep more upright and help open up the airway, or it may encourage the sleeper to rest on their side instead.

Nasal Sprays and Strips

Nasal sprays and strips could help provide better breathing and reduce snoring by decongesting the nasal passages. Easier breathing should help minimize your sleep apnea, and your partner will likely thank you for snoring less.

Professional Treatments

A Doctor Standing Next to a Woman on an Exam Table Illustration

In the event these DIY methods aren’t working and you’re experiencing a more severe case of sleep apnea, you can consult with a doctor who may provide professional treatments or surgery to help with your disorder.

Section 5

Does Sleep Affect Memory?

Sleep and memory are more connected than many folks realize, especially because sleep –  or lack thereof – can significantly impact your memory.

 

Learning and memory[5] are comprised of three categories: Acquisition, Consolidation, and Recall. Acquisition is when our brain gets access to new information. Consolidation is the process of forming a solid memory, and Recall is the ability to access that information after it has been stored in our memory.

students in a classroom

According to sleep health experts, Acquisition and Recall occur while we’re awake, and Consolidation – or memory development – happens while we sleep. So, without good rest, we can’t build solid memories, and if we’re too tired when we’re awake, we’re not able to efficiently process new information.

Section 6

How Can Treating Sleep Apnea Lower Your Risk of Dementia?

Dementia[6] is a general medical term to describe the decline of cognitive abilities, including memory, language skills, problem-solving, and thinking that are severe enough to impact your daily life. Alzheimer’s Disease is one of the leading causes of Dementia.

 

New research from the University of Michigan Health Lab reveals that a particular form of Obstructive sleep apnea treatment could minimize the risk[7] of developing Dementia. The treatment is called Positive Airway Pressure Therapy.

Illustration of an Elderly Man Sleeping in a Nursing Home

For the study, researchers analyzed people 65 and older with OSA. They discovered that the patients who used Positive Airway Pressure Therapy were less likely to be diagnosed with Dementia over the course of three years compared to those who did not use the therapy treatment. The experts say these findings further solidify just how vital good sleep is to cognitive health.

[1] “Sleep Apnea”, Mayo Clinic, July 28, 2020.


[2] “Type 2 Diabetes”, Mayo Clinic, January 20, 2021.


[3] “Sleep Apnea Information for Clinicians”, American Sleep Apnea Association


[4] “Sleep Apnea”, Cleveland Clinic, March 3, 2020.


[5] “Sleep, Learning, and Memory”, Harvard University, December 18, 2007.


[6] “What is Dementia?”, Alzheimer’s Association


[7] Haley Otman, “Treating Sleep Apnea May Reduce Dementia Risk”, Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan, 2021.

 Dr Alex Dimitriu M.D.<br> <span class="job-title">Board-certified Psychiatrist, Founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine</span>
Dr Alex Dimitriu M.D.
Board-certified Psychiatrist, Founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine

Dr. Alex Dimitriu brings a deep respect for science and spirituality into his work. He is board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and specializes in the complex interplay between the mind and body.

Using neuroscience and pharmacology to attain the most efficient and holistic solutions, he helps his patients achieve highly restorative sleep and optimal daytime performance.

Alex has been nationally recognized by The New York Times, Psychology Today, and NBC News. He has brought remarkable outcomes to the most challenging of cases through the optimization of wakefulness and sleep.

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