Sleep Apnea & You

Is snoring keeping you or your partner up at night? It is twice as likely the snorer in the household is male, so during our focus on Men’s Health this month, we take a look at snoring and the implications it can have. Source

If snoring is something that you or your partner struggles with you are not alone with 40% of men reported as snorers and 20% of women. The problem might be related to an obstructed nasal passage during sleep, when we sleep the muscles that support the soft tissues in your throat temporarily relax. When these muscles relax, your airway becomes narrow and breathing can be momentarily cut off. This occurrence can increase the risk of sleep apnea, a repetitive intermittent cessation of air flow at the nose and mouth while sleeping. Connected to the stat of more men than women are snorers, it makes sense that men are 2-3 times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea compared to women and as men age, sleep apnea becomes more common Source

The most common cause of sleep apnea is excessive weight and mouth breathing. Studies have shown that mouth breathing can induce obstructive sleep apnea or make it worse by increasing the amount of airway collapse and nasal resistance. What a vicious cycle - the more you are breathing through your mouth, the harder it is to breath through your nose! Remember the old adage, use it or lose it. There are a host of benefits that come with nasal breathing and improving your sleep is one of them. Breathing through your nose compared to your mouth actually increases the oxygen content of the air you take in by 25% Source, the nasal passages act as a filter for the air you're taking in. As well as humidifying the air you breathe for optimal absorption of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

James Nestor has written a fascinating book on ‘the lost art of breath’. He recorded a research event in which he slept for 10 days with nasal-obstructed sleep. During his first night, he recorded a 4x increase in sleep apnea events and 1,300% increase in snoring. Over the course of 10 days, he developed mild insomnia symptoms. His blood pressure and heart rate increased and his body temperature decreased.

The good news is there are techniques you can use to minimise your risk and improve your nasal airflow through exercise and a dedicated nasal breathing practice.

  1. Practising diaphragmatic breathing is one way to improve the function of your breath and strengthen your nasal pathways to improve air-flow into the lungs. If you’re interested to learn more, check out the Muscle Medicine YouTube channel for our diaphragmatic breathing videos.

  2. Nestor recommends the simple practice of mouth taping during sleep to encourage yourself to breathe through your nose. By placing a small piece of tape from the top to bottom lip, you’ll encourage your mouth to stay closed while sleeping. You will still be able to breathe through your mouth in any case but this will give you cues to breathe through your nose.

  3. Another simple addition to your lifestyle is frequent exercise, especially where your heart rate is increased and sustained for 20-30mins /day, 3-5 times/week. Improving your cardiovascular function and losing weight has a host of benefits associated including improved blood pressure, improved blood flow and helps to regulate stress which can all impact your sleep quality.

  4. If you are carrying some extra KGs, slowly increasing the exercise and watching your diet will help to drive weight loss. Studies have shown a decrease in weight of 10-15% can have a dramatic impact on the severity of sleep apnea and reduce symptoms in patients by 50% Source

If you are truly suffering from chronic nasal congestion or sleep apnea, it is important to address this with an appropriate practitioner. Speak with your GP as a starting point.

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