4.62 Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Heart Health

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is a condition where you stop breathing at night. More common in those who are overweight or obese, the airway can become obstructed during deep sleep.

This is how it goes in OSA. You go to sleep and all the muscles in the body relax, including those in the back of your throat. If the airway is narrowed anatomically, such as with extra fat tissue, the airway starts to become smaller. Initially you can still breath, but commonly it results in loud snoring as you force air through the tiny passage. Eventually the airway completely collapses. You try to keep breathing, but no air goes in and out of the lungs. Oxygen levels drop. The brain notices this and says “wake up”!!! You wake up, but not to the point where you open your eyes and realize what is going on. The cycle happens again and again.

The result of this is a lack of deep, restful stages of sleep. It’s as if you did not sleep at all or very little! You wake up in the morning and say “I just slept 8 hours, but I am still so tired.” Adrenaline levels remain high even during the daytime. The risk of heart attack, stroke, dying from heart disease and heart rhythm issues, such as atrial fibrillation, is much higher.

The main symptom of OSA is daytime fatigue. For example, you may fall asleep easily during simple activities like reading a book or watching TV. Diagnosing OSA requires a sleep test and treatment is wearing a special mask to keep your airway open all night. If you think you may have OSA, be sure to tell your doctor.

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