Sleep apnea is perhaps the most commonly seen sleep disorder and affects around 18 million Americans. A sleeping disorder which is characterized by broken breathing during sleep, sleep apnea is also undoubtedly the most dangerous of sleeping disorders because it starves the brain of crucial oxygen and can occasionally prove fatal.
There are two totally different types of sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea is in essence a neurological condition in which the breathing is broken because of signals sent out by the brain. Obstructive sleep apnea is in essence a mechanical problem in which the windpipe is obstructed either by too much tissue or as a result of the unusual collapse or relaxation of the muscles in and around the windpipe. In either case however the results are essentially identical with frequent interruptions to the breathing that deprive the brain of oxygen and place sufferers at heightened risk from such things as high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack.
Regrettably, diagnosing sleep apnea is not always easy because snoring, which is one of its commonest symptoms and often results in sleep apnea being referred to as the snoring disease, is also often seen as a symptom of many other medical problems. Snoring is normally present in cases of sleep apnea because the brain counters a lack of oxygen by waking the sufferer enough to restart the breathing process and this generally gives rise to snoring.
This frequent awakening through the night also results in a poor overall quality of sleep and it is fairly common for sufferers to get up in the morning feeling even more tired than when they got into bed. This also results in feelings of exhaustion during the course of the day and an overpowering desire to sleep.
But, tiredness resulting from a poor quality of sleep is only one part of the picture and a variety of other symptoms will almost certainly be present including headaches in the morning, poor memory and a difficulty in maintaining concentration.
Without treatment the increasing exhaustion resulting from sleep apnea can lead to severe psychological difficulties starting with simple irritability and progressing to depression with clear changes in behavior and mood.
Both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea are treatable and, provided the problem is diagnosed early enough, treatment can often be quite easy. For instance, mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea resulting from nasal congestion can generally be treated with little more than a course of decongestants. In the same way, many cases of sleep apnea that are not too severe can be treated using a mask that is worn during sleep and that delivers air at a constant pressure to keep the airway open. Finally, in the most severe cases surgery may be required and can be extremely effective, though it can also result in some complications and has to be considered carefully.
Probably the most important thing to bear in mind with sleep apnea is that as it carries the potentially fatal risk of respiratory failure sufferers should not be tempted to take sleeping pills or to use other types of sleep enhancers without the approval of their doctor.
Natural sleep remedies can certainly provide an effective complement to medically prescribed medicines and herbs which are intended to improve the quality and duration of sleep can be of assistance in the management of the excessive daytime sleepiness generally accompanying sleep apnea. Similarly, such things as aromatherapy, chromatherapy and meditation and guided relaxation can help to combat the anxiety and insomnia that go together with sleep apnea.
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