Anything that affects our metabolism’s ability to function properly gets us on high alert (how else are we going to digest last night’s Deliveroo?), but when you come across a condition that has the potential to scupper a good night’s sleep too, well, that’s just unacceptable. Unfortunately, sleep apnea hits hard, and it could be the reason you’re waking up tired and struggling to shift those few extra pounds.
Read on to see if you’ve been suffering while you snooze.
So what exactly is sleep apnea?
Don’t freak out, but it’s basically when you stop breathing in the middle of the night for 10 seconds or more. Yes, that can actually happen. Like in an extended snore, your throat relaxes and narrows, and the airflow becomes blocked. It can happen throughout the night, and in some cases, people could be breathless for up to 60 seconds.
Do you have it?
You know that annoying thing where you’re just about to doze off and then your entire body jumps? Well, that could be a sign. And so could snoring—that’s a prerequisite to the no-breathing bit. Waking up tired or feeling exhausted throughout the day are other pointers you could be suffering. However, it’s more likely to be picked up by your partner, as they’re the ones who will be able to report if you have noisy breathing patterns, unnervingly loud snoring levels or snorting that wakes you up (your windpipe’s way of telling you that you need more oxygen).
What if you don’t have a live-in monitor?
We don’t want this to read like a horror story, and you shall go to bed again. Your body is an intuitive thing, so if you do get oxygen-starved, it triggers your brain to pull you out of a deep sleep into a lighter snooze or to wake completely (similar to when you wake up desperate for a pee). However, the constant slip-sliding from the two states (asleep and awake) could be the reason you’re on your fourth coffee of the day and those beans still aren’t kicking in. If you seriously think you could be a sleep apnea contender, the British Lung Foundation offers a quick online survey called the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to help you assess the situation and whether you might want to take a trip to the GP.
Who’s on the hit list?
Most at risk are men and people who are overweight, but if you’re taking medicines with a sedative effect or are a big drinker or smoker, it’s not to say you’ve got the all-clear. If you have nasal congestion, watch out, and if you’re worried, check your family history, as genetics can play a part.
Is it curable?
When weight, alcohol or smoking is the issue, then yes. If it’s something else, it might be more arduous than watching what you eat, but there are things that can help. Start with your sleep position. If you lie face-up, switch to sleeping on your side as it makes it easier for air to pass through the throat.
You could also try a round or two of Kapalbhati breathing before you jump into bed. “It will help to strengthen your diaphragm and the stronger your diaphragm is the easier it will be for oxygen to flow through your body,” explains Ayurvedic therapist Ingrid Reygers. For what’s also known as the shining skull technique, sit with your spine straight and take long, deep inhalations from the belly. As you exhale, pull your navel back towards your spine, as far in as it will go. Your exhalation should feel forceful. When you release your navel, your breath will automatically flow into the lungs: 20 times in and out is one round, and do it twice.
A more forthright approach and one recommended by the NHS would be to try a mandibular advancement device. A bit like a gumshield that slot around your teeth, they jut your jaw and tongue forward to open the space at the back of your throat. Maybe don’t whip that one out at the first sleepover with your new playdate. Ditto for the full-on breathing mask that delivers a continuous supply of air from a canister. Dramatic, but if it means you can sleep through the night and wake up with a clearer head, it’s a small price to pay. Just make sure you remember you’re strapped in if you do need the loo in the night.
What about the metabolism bit?
It isn’t a given that if you suffer with sleep apnea you’ll have weight issues, but a recent study at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that if left untreated, sleep apnea could cause spikes in blood sugar levels, stress hormones and blood pressure. This is because more fatty acids in the blood were present, which could, in turn, lead to a sluggish metabolic rate as it struggles to deal with the excess. Even more of a dig in the ribs is that all of the side effects will make you even more tempted to chow down on sugary fixes mid-afternoon. But don’t go vetoing the avocado and nuts just yet: The study was conducted on obese patients, and the majority were overweight.
Next up: Find out why you’re always tired.