Control Sleep Apnea, Before it Controls Your Life

Dr. M.S. Kanwar
Senior Consultant, Critical Care & Sleep Disorders Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi

A busy professional in his midthirties is unlikely to take a little fatigue seriously. He considers himself to be in the prime of his life, juggling work and family responsibilities. But when this fatigue increases so much that he starts falling asleep during the day, it shows that there are more serious issues at play, and a chief culprit here is Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea isn't just a bad night; it is an ongoing problem that leads to chronic sleep deprivation and affects various aspects of a person's health. Sleep Apnea causes a person to stop breathing in between, resulting in less oxygen reaching his brain.

Dr. Kanwar, a leading sleep physician, says that Sleep Apnea is dangerous in more ways than one. The correlation between lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension and coronary heart disease and sleep apnea is well established. A person with sleep apnea and any of these pre-existing illnesses will find his condition worsening, even with an increase in the number of drugs. In worst cases, such a person can get a stroke or even die due to the net effect of long term OSA.

While even a night's bad sleep can affect a person's productivity, sleep apnea has far reaching consequences. Constant sleep deprivation results in the person feeling sleepy during the day, and this can be dangerous when he falls asleep while driving.

A person with deprived sleep is also subject to mood changes, irritability and eventually depression, since he loses the full power of his cognitive abilities. His behaviour and fatigue cuts down his social life and he finds himself isolated from friends and colleagues.

Sleep apnea affects not just the patient, but the entire family. Sleep Apnea patients generally can be found snoring heavily, and this causes their spouses to suffer. This usually ends in the spouses sleeping in separate rooms, affecting their family life. In western countries, this results in divorces while in India, spouses frequently complain about being unable to sleep.

Sleep Apnea is also an embarrassing problem, mainly since the person is unaware of the strange snorting noises he makes while asleep, especially in public places like trains or planes. When people in positions of authority like CEO or government ministers fall asleep and snore at meetings, they become the laughing stock of the public.

Sleep Apnea treatment helps greatly to improve the patient's quality of life as well as decrease the chances of comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, coronary heart disease as well as cancer. All these problems can be prevented by treating the primary cause that is sleep apnea. Several studies have shown that with proper sleep apnea treatment, a patient's blood sugar stabilizes and his blood pressure comes down, without any drug intervention.

Sleep Apnea treatment usually begins with consultation with a sleep doctor. A polysomnography, or sleep study test is performed on the patient, and his sleep is analyzed. Based on the severity level of the condition, the sleep doctor prescribes the treatment.

Dental appliances are available to treat sleep apnea, which are fitted at night, to bring the jaw forward, thus widening the airway. However, these are rarely comfortable and not as effective as a CPAP device, and are hence not as popular. A person with moderate to severe sleep apnea requires a CPAP machine, either with a fixed pressure or automated titration.

Many people don't like the idea of a mechanical device hooked on their face for the entire night. But with some initial training and a trial period of a couple of nights, most patients come around, especially when they see that they feel better and that there are no side effects. With the right size of mask and no leakage, patients feel better within 2-3 days of using the CPAP, reporting improved alertness, memory and disappearance of aches and pains. Spousal involvement is necessary for proper encouragement.

When people realize the importance of good sleep in their lives and they find how much they stand to gain with a CPAP machine, they usually soften their approach and willingly buy the device. The price to pay is completely worth it, when they return to their happy, healthy and younger selves again.