Have you noticed the numbers on your scale creeping higher, ignoring your efforts to eat healthy? Do you resolve to exercise more but instead find yourself too exhausted to begin? By any chance does your partner say that you snore in your sleep? These may be symptoms of a sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
There are several risk factors for developing OSA — some people have an oversized tongue or tonsils that crowd the upper airway; others may have a narrow oral cavity that hinders sleep; and others may have an underlying health problem that causes communication difficulties between the brain and respiratory system.
Yet another high-risk factor for developing OSA is simply being overweight. In a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” scenario, breathing problems during sleep can result from extra weight, while a normal-weight person who has untreated OSA can begin to add on pounds as a result of OSA.
How Sleep Is Disrupted by OSA
When the breathing passages in the back of your throat are narrowed and restricting the amount of air you can breathe in during sleep, you may let out a loud snoring sound when your body tries to force the air through. If that effort doesn’t work, your brain will awaken your body so you can take a breath. This can occur hundreds of times a night in severe cases. The result is a body and brain that can suffer from constant sleepiness, inability to concentrate, and depression. Over an extended time period, more serious problems can also develop, like high blood pressure, stroke, or heart attack.
But Doesn’t Everyone Relax During Sleep?
It is true — relaxation of the muscles in the throat during sleep is natural. Those who suffer from OSA usually have added factors that contribute to their OSA, as mentioned previously. Drinking alcohol and taking sleeping pills or tranquilizers, often intended to aid sleep, can exacerbate the problem rather than help it.
Many Are Unaware They Suffer From OSA
Loss of quality sleep can appear gradually, sometimes over a period of years, more so if it coincides with weight gain. Sufferers may not realize how many times their sleep is interrupted during the night and be unaware they have a sleep problem at all. It is common to dismiss poor sleep as a result of getting older, stress, prescription drugs, a bad mattress, and on and on. Although those things can contribute to a bad sleeping experience, when the other factors mentioned are also present, they are the more likely cause.
How Poor Sleep Can Affect Hormones — and Your Weight
Two main hormones have been shown to influence weight control: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin signals our brain to eat, while leptin signals our brain that we are full and to stop eating. Sleep deprivation leads the body to produce less leptin, so greater amounts of ghrelin and lower amounts of leptin can lead to weight gain. Weight gain has been shown to contribute to OSA, which deprives us of more sleep and can lead to added weight gain. To add insult to injury, research shows that poor sleep causes our cells to block insulin. Because insulin encourages the release of leptin (to stop eating), when insulin is blocked, less leptin is produced — once again leading to increased eating and weight gain.
The Good News Is — There Is Help!
It is possible to regain the ability to sleep well! If you are suffering from poor sleep, weight gain, and other symptoms of OSA, there are treatments that will help restore you to healthy sleep. Your first step should be an evaluation and diagnosis by a sleep professional. At TMJ & Sleep Centre, we are ready to assist you in your journey to good sleep — from lifestyle adjustments to appliances to help open your airway, and more. Visit our website or give us a call, and together we can help you achieve better sleep and better health.