Sleep apnea, the final sleep disorder we’ll look at in our series, is a common sleep disorder characterized by brief interruptions in breathing. These interruptions or pauses in breathing can last anywhere between a few seconds and up to a few minutes in duration, happening 30 or more (!) times an hour (Medline). If you think about it that translates to a great deal of oxygen not getting to your brain. Breathing resumes when the individual struggles to get air, waking up a bit to do so, before drifting back to sleep. Individuals with sleep apnea are often unaware of the problem until their sleep partner points it out or they begin to experience symptoms of sleep deprivation later in the day. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) excessive daytime sleepiness is a hallmark indicator of sleep apnea.

The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine reports that more than 18 million Americans are struggling with sleep apnea and many aren’t aware of it. One can’t help but wonder how much more Thriving those 18 million people would be if they were getting treatment. There are two major types of apnea: obstructive and central. While they have different courses of treatment and causes we’ll focus now on the general issues.

Other symptoms include: sleep, loud snoring (with periods of silence followed by gasps), falling asleep during the day, morning headaches, trouble concentrating, irritability, forgetfulness, mood or behavior changes, anxiety, and depression. (NINDS) Men more often than women are diagnosed with sleep apnea and carrying extra weight contributes greatly to the problem. Family history, smoking and the use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers also contribute to the problem. As we know it’s difficult to be a Thriving Individual when you’re feeling tired and irritable.

What to do about it? As with all sleep disorders a medical doctor is the place to start to get a good, accurate diagnosis and started on the path of finding the correct treatment. Lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking or cutting down on drinking can make a difference. Depending on the type of sleep apnea you’re struggling with a device for your mouth might be helpful as perhaps a machine to increase the pressure of the air you breath during the night. Of course the standard Thriving Individual recommendation of exercise fits in this case too (Mayo Clinic), adding more credence the suggestion in general!

In order to Thrive we need to have the energy to do it; I hope this series has shed some light on the both the importance of sleeping as well as the value of a good diagnosis if you’re not. Wishing you a good night’s sleep!