Sleep is a foundational element to overall health and well-being.
In fact, it is a well-known fact that how you feel while you are awake is heavily dependent on the quality of your sleep.
Sleep deprivation can be a massive detriment to not only your mental health but also your physical health.
With that being said, sleep related breathing disorders undermine the quality of your rest. And they can seriously hinder your ability to sleep well.
In other words—they keep you awake, and that isn’t good!
But how do you know if you’re actually experiencing a sleeping disorder?
Here’s what you need to know and watch out for.
What are Breathing Related Sleep Disorders?
A few years ago, I used to have these dreams where I couldn’t breathe.
Then I would wake up, gasping for breath.
This seemed weird to me—and I was almost convinced that it was all in my mind.
But then, it turned out that I was suffering from obstructive sleep apnea—and it all made sense.
OSA is just one of the many sleep related breathing disorders that can play havoc with your sleep schedule and quality of rest.
A sleep related breathing disorder is a term referring to one of many different disorders on a spectrum of breathing anomalies that affect humans while they are trying to rest. This ranges from snoring, to obstructive sleep apnea, to obesity hypoventilation syndrome.
To put it simply, breathing related sleep disorders are disorders that hinder your natural breathing mechanisms during sleep.
This is obviously problematic. But the biggest problem is that most people underestimate how dangerous these disorders really are—especially when you factor-in their long-term health risks.
What Is the Most Common Type of Sleep Related Breathing Disorder?
There are many types of sleeping disorders. But the most common one to watch out for in this category is Sleep Apnea.
Sleep Apnea is by far the most common type of sleep related breathing disorder. It is estimated that 22 million Americans currently suffer from it.
Undiagnosed/untreated sleep apnea can lead to a variety of long-term negative health consequences. These include (though are not limited to):
- High blood pressure
- Chronic heart failure
- Atrial fibrillation
- Type 2 diabetes
- Other cardiovascular problems
The most common types of sleep apnea are as follows.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (or OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea, and is a sleep disorder that causes ‘pauses’ in breathing. That’s actually what the word ‘apnea’ is referring to—a pause in breathing that occurs during sleep, which results in the brain briefly ‘waking you up’ to deal with the alarming lack of oxygen.
The sleeper may not remember the ‘wake up,’ but it will still interrupt their REM sleep. And so, it will still keep them from getting the kind of prolonged rest they need to stay healthy.
This particular type of sleep apnea is caused by an obstruction in the airway that results in a drop-off of breathing, and a subsequent lack of oxygen to the brain.
The most direct cause for obstructive sleep apnea is usually fatty tissue that ‘collapses in’ on the airway during sleep.
When the sleeper relaxes and falls asleep, the airway isn’t ‘held up’ by muscle strength like it is when the person is awake.
And if it collapses-in too much, the result is a blocked, or ‘obstructed’ airway that cuts off oxygen and causes an apnea.
Central Sleep Apnea
Central sleep apnea differs from obstructive sleep apnea in the sense that it isn’t caused directly by an obstruction in the throat, but by a phenomenon in which the brain stops sending signals to the muscles in the body that control breathing during sleep.
This type of sleep apnea is much rarer, and more often tends to affect people with brainstem injuries or infections, people who have had a stroke, or people who have cervical spine conditions.
Child Sleep Apnea
Child sleep apnea, also known as Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea, is a type of sleep apnea in which a child’s airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep.
It is basically the same as obstructive sleep apnea, but in children instead of adults.
Infant Sleep Apnea
Infant Sleep Apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder that causes pauses in breathing during an infant’s sleep. This term can be used to describe obstructive, central, or mixed apneas—and is essentially sleep apnea that occurs in infants.
Other Sleep Related Breathing Disorders
While Sleep Apnea is one of the most dangerous, widespread, and well-known sleep related breathing disorders, it is by no means the only one. Here are two other disorders of note.
Contrary to popular belief, snoring is indeed considered a sleep disorder.
But unlike sleep apnea, snoring isn’t always dangerous.
The line between innocuous and dangerous, where snoring is concerned, is where snoring begins to inhibit your sleep, or someone else’s sleep quality.
- Does snoring keep you awake?
- Is it a symptom of a bigger problem (like sleep apnea)?
- Is it keeping your partner awake?
Snoring isn’t necessarily dangerous on its own. But if it causes anyone a lack of sleep, then it is something that needs to be addressed.
For example, many spouses complain that their partner’s snoring keeps them awake.
This can lead to sleep deprivation, intimacy issues, frustration, and can even contribute to worse health outcomes in the long run.
Sleep is important. And anything that keeps you from getting enough of it should be considered bad news.
Sleep Related Groaning
Sleep Related Groaning is also called Catathrenia. This is a somewhat interesting phenomenon that, while classified as a sleep-related breathing disorder, is not necessarily harmful to the person experiencing it.
It can, however, keep your partner awake—which is the primary cause for concern.
People with sleep-related groaning basically groan verbally while sleeping. The groans tend to occur nightly, are quite loud, and do not seem to be related to any sort of pain or emotion.
They are just groans.
Specialists are not sure what causes the disorder. But the only real danger is that it can keep other people awake, as it doesn’t hinder breathing or cause any sort of oxygen-deprivation in the sleeper.
It generally doesn’t even wake up the person experiencing it.
How to Avoid Sleep Related Breathing Disorders
Curing and treating sleep related breathing disorders is important.
But preventing them is even better.
When it comes to issues that ruin our sleep, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Here’s how you can increase the odds of staving off breathing disorders that could affect the quality of your sleep.
Adopt a Healthier Lifestyle
Stop eating so much junk food. Start hitting the gym. Start moving your body and becoming more active.
Try some yoga, boxing, hiking, jogging, or basketball.
Increasing movement and cutting down on calories will undoubtedly contribute to weight loss—which is really good for preventing issues like snoring and sleep apnea.
Try Sleeping In a Different Position
Did you know that your sleeping position has a lot more to do with your snoring risk than most people think?
And perhaps not surprisingly—the worst position for snoring is on your back.
Sleeping in this position also makes you more likely to suffer from sleep apnea as well.
The best position for avoiding snoring and OSA while sleeping, as it turns out, is on your side.
Sleeping on your side helps you to avoid having your airway collapse while you’re trying to rest.
When you sleep on your back, it is only natural that gravity is going to pull the loose tissues of your airway down once they are relaxed.
Sleeping on your side, however, helps to prevent this.
Stop Drinking Alcohol and Smoking Cigarettes
Since alcohol is a depressant, avoiding it in the hours before you go to bed will help to lower your snoring risk.
Here’s the thing about alcohol. When you drink it, it causes your muscles to relax.
And guess what? This includes the muscles in the back of your throat.
And those muscles control the exact tissues that cause snoring and sleep apnea. There is lots of data that confirms alcohol causes snoring.
Smoking also aggravates the respiratory system, causes inflammation, and just in-general decreases your respiratory health.
Quitting smoking will stop smoker’s cough, reduce inflammation, and help to give you your best chances of sleeping through the night without snoring or OSA.
Use a Sleep Apnea Device or CPAP
CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, and is basically a device that you fit with a mask and wear while you sleep. It increases the airway pressure in your respiratory system, which pushes outward on the walls of your airway—keeping them from collapsing in.
This is the number one treatment for OSA, and it works quite well.
You can also, however, utilize other sleep apnea devices—such as mandibular advancement devices, tongue stabilization devices, and smart snoring devices like the Smart Nora.
Some of these types of products have pretty good track records with snoring and sleep apnea.
Sleep Related Breathing Disorders – FAQs
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we get about sleep related breathing disorders.
Why Do I Struggle to Breathe When I Sleep?
If you feel like you often wake up ‘struggling to breathe’ while sleeping, then you are likely experiencing a bout of Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea occurs when your airway gets either partially or completely blocked during sleep—usually due to the soft tissue of the airway collapsing in on itself.
My girlfriend used to wake me up from time to time, freaking out—saying that I suddenly stopped breathing.
It ended up being obstructive sleep apnea!
One potential fix is to sleep on your side instead of your back. You can also try an anti-OSA device, like a mandibular advancement device that is specifically made for treating OSA. Or, you can go to a specialist to get fitted for a CPAP machine.
In any case, OSA is no joke. And it’s important that you pay your doctor a visit if you suspect that you may be suffering from it.
How Can I Fix Sleep Apnea Naturally?
You actually can fix, or at least treat, sleep apnea naturally. But it takes work. And even if you do treat it naturally, you should still visit your doctor.
The best thing you can do to get rid of sleep apnea is to start working out, dieting, and losing weight.
When you look at the links between sleep apnea and excess body weight, you quickly see how effective losing weight is to preventing (or treating) not only sleep apnea, but also snoring.
It isn’t a sure-fire cure, but losing weight can greatly increase your odds of getting rid of OSA, and decrease your odds of suffering from it in the future.
What Are the Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea?
The warning signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are as follows.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Morning headaches
- Episodes of ‘stopped breathing’ during sleep
- Difficulty with concentration
- High blood pressure
- A decrease in libido
- Mood changes
- Dry mouth or sore throat in the mornings
If you are suffering from these types of signs and symptoms, and feel that it may be related to sleep apnea, it is always best to set up an appointment with your doctor.
This is especially true if your partner reports that you often ‘stop breathing’ during the night while sleeping.
Sleep apnea may not seem like a huge problem. But it can lead to a range of destructive long-term health consequences and is definitely one of the most dangerous sleep related breathing disorders.
Quality sleep is fundamentally important.
It is a pillar of good health, and is required if you want to live your best life.
Feeling great and performing well both require you to get a decent, quality night’s rest.
But in order to do that, you’re going to need to deal with any sleep related breathing disorders you may be suffering from.
It may not seem like that big of a deal. But OSA and other breathing disorders are no joke.