Sleep apnea is a common sleep-related health condition in which breathing stops for at least 10 seconds while you are asleep. This condition affects people of all ages and from all around the world, which is quite alarming.
A rough estimate suggests that 25 percent of men and 9 percent of women in Australia suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Obesity is the most common underlying risk factor for sleep apnea among Aussies, as per researchers.
Although the condition is widespread, a lot of people either don’t know about it or don’t think it is important enough to be treated. That’s why most people live without getting this condition tested.
What This Article Is All About?
What if we were to tell you that you can diagnose sleep apnea without having to go through fancy testing and having to pay a fortune for those tests?
What if you could diagnose sleep apnea at home? It would make your life so much easier.
So let’s get to it.
Disclaimer: The information given in this article is meant to improve your understanding of sleep apnea. The information is meant to facilitate the diagnosis of your condition. However, it is always advised to get yourself checked by a qualified healthcare provider.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Before getting into the detail of how to diagnose sleep apnea at home, let’s understand a little about this condition.
Sleep apnea is a serious condition where you experience irregularities in your breathing pattern. To be more precise, the breathing stops and starts throughout the duration of your sleep.
What’s worse is that you might live with it without realizing you have sleep apnea. Your partner might point out changes in your sleep pattern.
Following are the symptoms of sleep apnea:
- Loud snoring
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Restlessness and inadequate sleep
- Dizziness during the day
- Lowered attention span
- Lowered sex drive
- Fatigue and Exhaustion
Main Causes of Sleep Apnea
This is by far the most common cause of sleep apnea. The obesity rates in Australia are alarming.
According to the Australian department of health, a staggering 67 percent of the Australian population is obese or overweight. In other words, around two-third of the Aussie population is crossing the weight line.
But how does obesity link to sleep apnea? Here is how.
The excess body fat tends to put more pressure on your respiratory system or airways to a point that you stop breathing for a few seconds while sleeping. In other words, it weakens the muscles involved in breathing and also decreases lung volume due to extra fat.
All of this makes it a challenge to breathe normally and you end up having apneic episodes while sleeping.
As you age, the chances of you suffering from sleep apnea increase dramatically. Older adults are always at a higher risk because the body goes through several changes during the aging process.
Here are the common changes that are blamed to cause sleep disorders.
- Excess fatty deposit around head and neck
- Lengthening of the soft palate
- Structural changes around the throat
- Changes in brain function
Smoking affects your breathing and makes you prone to have sleep apnea in a variety of ways.
Smoking affects your neuromuscular junction. In simple words, it weakens the impulses to your muscles coming from the brain. As a result, the breathing muscles can’t support your airways while you are asleep and make them prone to collapse.
Also, smoking affects your brain centers responsible for controlling your arousal when your brain is not getting enough oxygen. When you go into an apneic stage and don’t breathe enough, the smoking-damaged areas don’t get triggered and you end in a cycle of sleep apnea.
Finally, smoking irritates your upper airways and makes you susceptible to snoring and sleep apnea.
Alcohol causes sleep apnea in ways similar to alcohol. It weakness your neuromuscular junctions and affects your brain center controlling your breathing patters.
Use of Sedatives
You might be using sedatives for medicinal purposes but the long-term use can lead to sleep apnea. It causes that in two ways:
- Weight gain
- Excess muscle relaxation of your muscles around the throat and upper airways
Do You Have Sleep Apnea? 7 Steps to Figure It Out Right Now!
If you are wondering whether you have sleep apnea, here is everything you can do to detect the problem without walking to the clinic.
All you need to do is answer these simple questions mentioned below.
#1: Do You Wake up Gasping at Night?
This is one of the most obvious signs of sleep apnea as the breathing process halts for a few seconds and you wake up gasping for air.
However, you certainly don’t have sleep apnea if that happens once in a blue moon.
Tip: Keep a diary of how frequently you wake up at night gasping for air. If you are waking up more than three to four times per week, you should start suspecting that you have sleep apnea.
#2: Do You Have the Following Symptoms for a While Now?
It is important to understand that sleep apnea is not just about snoring at night. Anyone who has sleep apnea has a wide range of symptoms that they feel throughout the day.
Cross out the ones below that you have been feeling for quite a while now.
- Sleep deprivation
- Frequent headaches
- Loss of concentration and memory
- Loss of sexual desire
Tip: If you have two or more of the above symptoms, start suspecting that you have sleep apnea. However, these symptomSleep Apnea Tests alone are not enough. If you have the above symptoms, notice your body structure (as given in # 3).
#3: Is Your Body Structure Normal?
If your Body Mass Index (BMI) is high and you have to above symptoms, it is quite likely that you have sleep apnea.
Here is how you calculate your BMI.
BMI = Weight in kilograms divided by your height in meters squared (kg/m²)
For adults, the normal range of BMI is between 18.4 and 24.9 kg/m². Any figure above that should be a cause of concern. In sleep apnea, BMI is more than 35 kg/m².
Apart from that, neck size also plays a crucial role here. Ideally, the neck size should not be more than 17 inches for men and 16 inches for women. Larger the neck, the more are the chances of sleep apnea.
#4: Do You Have Underlying Health Conditions?
Many health conditions have an intimate connection with sleep apnea. You are more likely to have sleep apnea if you have the following health conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Kidney disease
#5: Has Your Partner/Roommate Ever Noticed You While Your Breathing Stopped?
Your partner may know that you have sleep apnea even before you get to know about it. Sleep apnea patients tend to snore loudly and their breathing is irregular at night. Both of these are easily noticed by anyone who shares room or bed with you.
#6: Are You 50 Years or Above?
Age is a common factor leading to sleep apnea, especially the bracket above 50 is more prone. It is sleep apnea if you are 50 or above and feel the above-mentioned symptoms and suffer from other diseases.
# 7: Gender
Men are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea compared to females.
Online Methods for Detecting Sleep Apnea
Apart from self-assessment questions for sleep apnea, there are online tools you can try at home to detect sleep apnea.
Online Surveys & Questionnaires
Thankfully, it’s the 21st century where you can do nearly everything on the internet including a sleep apnea test. Many organizations have put up questionnaires for those who think they have sleep apnea or any other sleep disorder.
The surveys have easy-to-understand multiple choice questions and you can get the result right after you hit the submit button.
Here are some online tools and questionnaires you can use to assess your risk of having sleep apnea.
Experts have designed mobile applications that diagnose sleep apnea by recording your snoring and breathing pattern while you are asleep. But again, you need to be very careful with which ones you download because credibility is important if you want accurate results.
An Australian app is ResApp. Other apps are as follows:
- Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock by Northcub
- Sleeptracker-24/7 by Motion X
- Sleephealth, created by the American Sleep Apnea Association
At-home Sleep Apnea Test
It is called an at-home sleep test specially made for those who want to take a test for sleep apnea without stepping out of their comfort zone. In simple words, it is just like a lab test being done at home.
In the test, you get a breathing monitor kit given to you by your doctor. The kit comes with a set of instructions that you need to follow to be able to get the right outcome out of it. The monitor is fairly easy to set up and with that, you will be getting a few more components that include:
- A finger clip to measure heart rate and oxygen.
- Sensors to track the performance of your chest
- A nasal cannula to check airflow and oxygen
The results are then transferred to the doctor who further evaluates the situation and recommends the right treatment for the issue.
However, there are pros and cons to it that you should consider before finalizing this method to test sleep apnea.
- An at-home sleep apnea test is convenient as you don’t have to go to the lab. You can do it at home without altering your regular bedtime routine.
- It is economical in comparison to lab tests designed for sleep apnea
- It is an accessible option for those who live far away from sleep centers. Everything is done from the comfort of your house and even the monitor can be sent to your place if the need arises.
- The results are much faster compared to the tests done in the labs.
- The accuracy of the result might be affected as there is no trained individual to guide you. Chances of errors and trials are much higher in such tests.
- Usually, doctors recommend going for a lab test even after you perform a test at home.
- An at-home test is not as comprehensive as those done by the professionals in the lab. It does not detect other sleep-related diseases so the results might be misleading.
6 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Ease Sleep Apnea at Home
Don’t worry if you have sleep apnea. It is super easy to control this condition if your symptoms still haven’t gone too far. Everything can be done at home without putting your finances in trouble.
#1: Exercise, exercise, and exercise
Exercise is important for two main reasons:
- It helps strengthen your lungs and heart functions
- It aids in maintaining body weight
You don’t really have to start with tough exercises. Yoga is excellent for regulating your breathing patterns, however, make sure to be regular with it. Exercises only work when you stay true to it.
#2: Challenge Your Weight
As mentioned, obesity is the main source of sleep apnea so reducing your weight can do wonders for your sleep health. However, don’t rely on crash diets to lose weight as they generate other health problems.
The most promising ways to maintain weight include:
- Eating balanced meals in a timely fashion
- Managing stress and anxiety levels
Pro Tip: Calculate your normal body mass index and set your goals accordingly
#3: Wave Goodbye to Alcohol & Smoking
Alcohol and smoking are lethal and they are not good for your health, so you better get rid of them. Abruptly stopping might not help because rebound and withdrawal are common.
Tip: It is advisable to discontinue by lowering your dose step by step.
#4: Install a Humidifier
Lack of moisture in the air makes the entire environment uncomfortable for sleeping. It can become even worse if you already suffer from respiratory conditions. Investing in a good quality humidifier is perfect to add a bit of moisture in the air.
In Australia, you can order a humidifier online or visit the nearest store selling electrical appliances.
#5: Fix Your Sleep Position
The way you sleep can boost or alleviate the intensity of sleep apnea symptoms. Sleeping on your back is not recommended at all especially if you have snoring problems. To control snoring, sleeping on your side is the best.
Pro Tip: You can ask your partner to keep a check on how you sleep.
#6: Keep Yourself Hydrated
Drinking at least eight glasses of water throughout the day regulates the functioning of your heart and lungs. Two of these organs play a crucial role in your breathing patterns so take care of them by drinking an adequate amount of water.
Tip: Do not drink water before your bedtime as it will leave you rushing to the washroom.
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep-related health condition that needs your immediate attention. Rush to a doctor if your sleep apnea test at home turns out to be positive. Only a medical practitioner with hands-on experience in the field can suggest treatments that best suit your condition.
Be hopeful though because it can be defeated by taking proper measures at home or surgeries. With that, keep exercising and eating healthy.
Also, not to forget to control your stress levels even if you have to see a therapist because stress can prolong any disease.
Dr. Muhammad Usman is a Doctor, Nutritionist, Wellness Coach and a Researcher with a deep insight into all aspects of writing related to health and science.