While there are some unavoidable factors that can influence your likelihood of developing sleep apnea (including genetics and the size of your throat), many of the biggest influencers are at least somewhat within your control.
More often than not, obstructive sleep apnea stems from lifestyle choices. By making healthy changes, you can improve your overall physical and mental health and reduce the severity of your sleep apnea.
Which Factors Can Cause or Worsen Sleep Apnea?
Of all the lifestyle factors that can contribute to obstructive sleep apnea, few play a bigger role than obesity. Studies suggest that anywhere from 25 to 45 percent of obese individuals also suffer from obstructive sleep apnea — a much higher rate than the general population. Obesity has even been found to cause young children to develop obstructive sleep apnea — something that is extremely rare among the general population.
Obesity contributes to obstructive sleep apnea by creating buildups of fat around the upper airway and thorax. Such fat buildup can increase the body’s demand for oxygen, while also increasing the risk of an upper airway collapse during sleep. As a result, the severity of one’s sleep apnea often gets worse as they become more overweight.
Even more problematic, obstructive sleep apnea and obesity often work in an interrelated cycle. Because sleep apnea causes individuals to feel lethargic, they tend to become less physically active. Many who suffer from sleep apnea will also experience increased appetite. This can lead to even more weight gain, which will make obstructive sleep apnea even worse.
While there are many factors that can lead to obesity, our modern world’s tendency toward a more sedentary lifestyle is believed to be a major contributor. Technology (and the often addictive nature of our smartphones) mean that many people spend most of their time sitting and staring at a screen, rather than being engaged in meaningful physical activity. This is even worse when one’s job also basically entails sitting at a desk all day.
Counteracting obesity and the many health problems associated with it (including sleep apnea), requires proactive efforts to maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise. In fact, Stephanie Watson of Harvard Women’s Health Watch explains, “If overweight and obese people lose weight, it would make both sleep apnea and other health problems [such as heart disease] go away. Losing just 10% of body weight can have a big effect on sleep apnea symptoms. In some cases, losing a significant amount of weight can even cure the condition.”
Obese individuals should consult their doctor to set appropriate weight loss goals and develop an exercise program that will allow them to lose weight. If you haven’t exercised in a long time, you will want to ease into working out to avoid injury. Yoga can be especially helpful, as many yoga routines emphasize respiratory flow through breathing exercises. A healthy diet that is low in processed foods can also help you get to a healthy weight so you can sleep better.
Certain substances can also make sleep apnea more severe. Smoking, alcohol, and sleeping pills have all been linked to increased sleep apnea severity. In fact, the Mayo Clinic reports that “smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than are people who’ve never smoked. Smoking can increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.”
Because they are depressants, some people assume that alcohol and sedative medications will help them sleep better. While these substances may help you fall asleep faster, they won’t necessarily help you sleep better. This is because using these depressants will relax the throat muscles, making sleep apnea interruptions more likely. They can also slow brain function, further increasing the severity of sleep apnea.
Unsurprisingly, the way to address this sleep apnea cause is fairly straightforward: quit using these substances, particularly in the hours before bedtime. While quitting can be hard, the long-term health benefits are well worth the effort. If you have struggled with quitting before, consult with your doctor to determine treatment methods that will help you follow through.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight or quit smoking, these lifestyle changes require a continuous commitment. You may not succeed immediately, or you might encounter relapses in behavior along the way. The important thing is to not give up. Keep trying so you can sleep better and improve your overall health.
What Happens If You Don’t Do Anything About Your Sleep Apnea?
Making these lifestyle changes is essential because obstructive sleep apnea isn’t something you just “live with.” If left unaddressed, it can have significant long-term consequences that greatly reduce your quality of life.
The most obvious consequence of sleep apnea is that it will cause you to feel fatigued, even after getting what you think was a full night’s rest. The constant interruptions to sleep that you experience during the night will leave you feeling drowsy and lethargic during the day.
While a single night of poor sleep may not seem like too big of a deal, the compounding exhaustion when this occurs night after night can severely disrupt your daily routine. Your fatigue will make you more likely to be involved in a car accident caused by drowsy driving. Performance at work will suffer as you have trouble concentrating on your assigned tasks.
Perhaps most problematic, growing fatigue will make you increasingly irritable and short-tempered. Minor annoyances that weren’t a big deal before will suddenly seem like major obstacles. You will likely become more argumentative with family and friends, hurting the relationships that matter most. Your lack of energy will also leave you too tired to participate in the activities that you once loved.
Because sleep (or a lack thereof) can have such a big impact on mood, severe sleep apnea can also contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. Studies have found that obstructive sleep apnea is a contributor to treatment resistant depression — or depression that cannot be easily resolved by standard medication.
The interruptions to sleep that occur during sleep apnea create added stress for the body during the night. When you wake up gasping for breath, your body enters a mode of heightened stress, which raises your blood pressure. As a result, many who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea also develop hypertension, which in turn raises their risk for potentially fatal conditions such as heart failure and stroke.
Many of the conditions that have been linked with obstructive sleep apnea are also connected to the unhealthy lifestyle choices that can make this sleep disorder worse. Being overweight has been linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes — both of which can be worsened by sleep apnea. In addition to lung cancer and other breathing issues, smoking can also create heart problems.
In short, failure to address sleep apnea and the lifestyle factors that contribute to it won’t just reduce your overall quality of life. It could lead to an early death.
Pairing Lifestyle Changes With a CPAP Machine
Even after making key lifestyle changes, many people continue to suffer from some degree of sleep apnea. This is especially true of older men, who are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea regardless of other lifestyle choices. For many, a CPAP machine will be essential for fully overcoming the detrimental affects of sleep apnea.
A CPAP device helps counteract obstructive sleep apnea by providing a steady flow of air throughout the night. This pressurized air keeps the breathing passages open, greatly reducing — and often completely eliminating — sleep apnea episodes. Of course, this treatment is only effective when you actually use it every night. It might take a while before you feel the full effects of your therapy, but it can make a lasting difference for your sleep quality.
In reality, using a CPAP machine is a lifestyle change in and of itself. Users must adapt to wearing a mask at night, which can take some getting used to. However, the payoff is well worth the effort. By using a CPAP machine, you will be able to sleep soundly through the night and feel well rested in the morning. Your spouse will also sleep better, as using a CPAP machine will eliminate the snoring that often occurs as a result of sleep apnea.
As part of using a CPAP machine, it is generally recommended that you use a device that includes a humidifier. A humidifier will add much-needed moisture to the air that is provided by your CPAP device, which will ensure that dry air doesn’t irritate your throat. Humidifier use can even decrease congestion for better breathing.
Sleep position is another factor to consider, as sleep apnea is more likely to occur when you are sleeping on your back. Positional sleep apnea therapy devices can help encourage you to sleep on your side. Your sleep position may also affect which types of masks work best for you. Be sure to choose a mask that will fit snugly against your face throughout the night.
The good news is that you’re not on your own in figuring out what CPAP options will work best. After completing a sleep study, medical specialists will help you determine which air pressure settings and mask types will work best for your needs, based on your sleeping and breathing habits, as well as the severity of your obstructive sleep apnea.
Cleaning and caring for your CPAP equipment will be another lifestyle change that you need to make as you strive to control your sleep apnea. Your mask and tubing will need to be cleaned daily to prevent bacterial buildup. The mask, tubing, and air filters will also need to be replaced on a regular basis to ensure consistent performance.
Just like with losing weight or quitting smoking, getting used to CPAP therapy may take some time. It requires ongoing effort — it’s not something you can do for a week, and then never worry about again. However, as you commit to this important lifestyle change, you will be able to enjoy the quality sleep that you need and experience better overall health.
Making Changes For Better Sleep
While making healthy lifestyle changes won’t necessarily eliminate your obstructive sleep apnea, such changes can go a long way in improving your overall health and well-being. By taking a proactive role in managing your health and sleep habits, you will be able to have the energy you need for the activities you love the most.
Of course, getting the CPAP equipment that is so often needed to mitigate the effects of sleep apnea can prove a financial challenge for some, especially if they don’t have insurance. This is where No Insurance Medical Supplies can make a difference for you.
Not only do we carry a wide range of CPAP machines from top brands like Philips Respironics, ResMed, and DeVilbiss Healthcare, but we offer many of these devices at significant discounts off their MSRP. Similar deals are also available for masks, tubing, and other CPAP essentials. Financing is also available on select purchases so you can make more affordable monthly payments. Some buyers may even qualify for interest-free payment plans!
Few things have a bigger impact on your life than the quality of your sleep. By making appropriate lifestyle changes and using your CPAP machine as recommended by your doctor, you can enjoy restful, rejuvenating sleep again. With a full night’s sleep, you will once again have the quality of life that allows you to make the most of your time at work, with family, or participating in your favorite hobbies.