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Sleep apnoea is estimated to affect as many as 1.5 million people in the UK, making it the most common sleep disorder. Many of those affected are not aware they have the condition. Sleep apnoea affects around twice as many men than women, and the risk increases with age, although it can occur in children.
Most people with sleep apnoea snore, sometimes very loudly, and this can be a significant issue for partners.
If you or a loved one are affected by sleep apnoea, read on to discover some natural approaches to manage the condition.
If you’re affected by sleep apnoea, you’ll stop breathing very briefly or take shallow breaths when you’re asleep. This may happen as often as every other minute, with the interruptions in breathing lasting from ten seconds to as long as a minute. Because the oxygen supply to the brain is briefly stopped, you’ll wake up suddenly, repeatedly gasping for air with snoring or choking sounds.
If you have sleep apnoea you might not know you’re waking up, believing you’ve slept well. But the condition reduces the quality of your sleep because it’s impossible to sleep deeply if you’re constantly waking up.
Sleep apnoea is a potentially dangerous condition because it’s connected with an increased risk of heart disease 1, diabetes, poor immune function, depression and memory issues. It’s been found to significantly increase the likelihood of a stroke.
Over time, repeated episodes of sleep apnoea and the associated interruptions to oxygen supply cause the sympathetic nervous system to become activated. This part of your nervous system protects you from danger. If it’s on red alert, you’ll constantly be in ‘fight or flight’ mode both when you’re awake and asleep, and this tends to cause blood pressure to increase.
The condition is usually caused by abnormal relaxation of the throat muscles. These muscles support your soft palate and surrounding tissues, your tonsils and the walls of your throat. So if they relax, your airways will narrow or even close as you inhale. Because you’re not then receiving enough air, the oxygen level in your blood decreases, so your brain briefly wakes you up to open your airway.
Some people suffer from sleep apnoea because their brain doesn’t send the correct messages to their throat muscles during sleep.
Up to 60% of obese people suffer with sleep apnoea. The severity of the condition has been linked with insulin resistance, a measure of how sensitive your body’s cells are to insulin.
Increased levels of oxidative stress and inflammation are common in people affected by sleep apnoea, due to interruptions in the normal oxygen supply. Oxidative stress is prone to damaging blood vessels and affecting nerve function in the airways. Meanwhile, inflammatory substances released by fat cells affect the muscles in your upper airway.
Sleep apnoea is sometimes linked with low thyroid function because an enlarged thyroid gland can obstruct the airway, and low thyroid function reduces the effectiveness of nerves and muscles.
The condition can also be connected with acid reflux, and the two often occur together.
Many people find a sleep mask to be helpful. This delivers a constant supply of oxygen throughout the night, preventing your brain from waking you up. However, it won’t address the underlying causes of sleep apnoea.
Excess fat can obstruct your airways. Unfortunately, poor sleep makes it more likely you’ll put on weight. Apart from causing fatigue, lack of sleep hinders insulin sensitivity. Adopting a blood sugar balancing eating plan can help your cells become more sensitive to insulin.
An anti-inflammatory diet means avoiding sugar, processed foods, refined grains and modified fats while eating plentiful fresh vegetables, fruit, pulses, nuts and seeds. Omega 3 fats from flax or fish help to reduce inflammation. A diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables will deliver plenty of beneficial antioxidants, crucial because of the increased oxidative stress in sleep apnoea. Boosting antioxidant intake with a supplement may be beneficial. Your practitioner can advise on the most suitable supplement for your circumstances.
Moderate-intensity aerobic activity reduced sleep apnoea significantly in scientific trials 2.
Because the sympathetic nervous system is activated in sleep apnoea, stress management is key to dampening down the ‘fight/flight’ response. Yoga, meditation and properly winding down before bed are recommended.
You are unique, so if you would like one-to-one support to regain a healthy night’s sleep, you’re in the right place. Request a FREE 15-minute discovery call at the bottom of this page to discuss how we can help with your Sleep Apnoea.
Do you need personalised support for your sleep apnoea? Then book a free 15-minute discovery call to see if Functional Medicine is for you.
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