The Art of Sleep: Navigating Sleep Apnea and Promoting Healthy Sleep Habits

Sleep Apnea and snoring - lady in a sleep mask

As National Sleep Awareness Week unfolds, it’s time to delve into the realm of sleep hygiene and health. Often underestimated in its importance, sleep plays a vital role in our overall well-being. To shed light on this crucial topic, we’ve enlisted the expertise of Dr. K. Naras Bhat, a distinguished specialist in Sleep Medicine with over 22 years of experience.  

Understanding Sleep Apnea 

According to Dr. Bhat, “Sleep apnea is the second most common sleep disorder, following insomnia.” There are two types of Apneas: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.  

Obstructive sleep apnea is a blockage in the airway, disrupting breathing during sleep. Central sleep apnea occurs because the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. 

The most common reason for sleep apnea is obesity. Gaining weight around your throat can make the space where air flows smaller and easier to close up. Also, if you have extra fat around your chest area, it can make your chest less flexible and reduce how much air your lungs can hold, which might make your body need more oxygen.  Other risks of sleep apnea include a recessed chin, a narrow airway, or a misaligned jaw.  In children, large tonsils are the number one reason for sleep apnea. Age two until age eight is the most common age for pediatric sleep apnea because the tonsils and adenoids become larger, obstructing the arteries.  

Health Implications  

Mild sleep apnea might harm your heart a little, but things get more serious with moderate and severe cases. Dr. Bhat highlights a worrying fact: people with severe sleep apnea have a higher chance of dying early, especially from heart problems like heart attacks or strokes.   

Untreated sleep apnea can also lead to various complications, as highlighted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). These may include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, accidents, workplace errors, and impaired cognitive function due to daytime sleepiness.  

If you think you may have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about it. At Hill Physicians, we have over 5,600 physicians dedicated to providing personalized care –   find one in our network here.  

Tips for Better Sleep  

Dr. Bhat provides valuable insights on how to improve sleep quality, which are now condensed into actionable advice:  

  • Align with Your Circadian Rhythm: Respect the natural rhythm dictated by sunrise and sunset. Aim to go to bed no later than 9 pm or 10 pm and rise with the sun.  
  • Engage in Physical Activity: Build your sleep drive by staying active throughout the day. Combat the sedentary lifestyle by incorporating regular physical activity.  
  • Mind Your Food and Beverage Intake: Consume your last meal of the day at least two to three hours before bedtime. Limit caffeine and stimulants, especially within four or five hours of bedtime. If necessary, use caffeine strategically during the daytime to prevent daytime napping.  
  • Create a Relaxing Sleep Environment: Design your bedroom for optimal sleep by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows to support restful sleep.  
  • Establish a Bedtime Routine: Establish a regular pre-sleep routine to signal to your body that it’s time to relax. Engage in calming activities like reading, gentle stretching, or meditation before bedtime.  
  • Limit Screen Time Before Bed: Avoid exposure to electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime. Blue light emitted by screens can disrupt melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep. Consider using blue light-blocking glasses or utilizing device settings that reduce blue light emission.  

Incorporating these practical strategies into your daily routine can pave the way for a more restful and rejuvenating night’s sleep. Remember, prioritizing sleep hygiene is essential for overall health and well-being.  

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