By Gabrielle Tieman

Do you toss and turn at night, wake up every hour or have twitching legs and a brain that just won’t stop? We have all experienced these sleepless nights before – if not on a regular basis. Unfortunately, sleep is one vital component of life we simply can’t always control and counting sheep doesn’t always do the trick. And although a hiccup in your sleeping pattern is generally a sign of stress or a natural side effect to a busy lifestyle, an uneven sleeping schedule is not something to be taken lightly or overlooked.

A lack of sleep can wreak havoc on your mental, physical and emotional appearance and well-being. Eyes become puffy, heads become foggy and your mood can become irritable and irrational. Though you may attest your restless nights to the stresses of day to day life, an obstructed sleep cycle could be the sign of a more serious health issues that a second or third cup of coffee just can’t quite fix.

Affecting almost 1 in 10 people, obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders in the world and is known to disrupt the sleep patterns of over 10% of North America – though most are undiagnosed. This chronic disorder causes people to stop breathing repeatedly as they sleep, due to compressed and closed airways preventing the air from getting into their lungs. This causes sleep to be disrupted and presents as continual wake ups during the night. When left untreated, sleep apnea can be the silent trigger to a range of severe ailments, from diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity to even stroke, heart attack and death.

Scary enough, the symptoms can seem ordinary; excessive daytime sleepiness, loud snoring, poor concentration, irritability and morning headaches. Wayne Gowrie, a sleep and Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) Specialist at Medelife Healthcare Services in St. Catharines, Ontario says that though sleep apnea is incredibly common, many people tend to misdiagnose their symptoms and disregard seeking help.

“Apnea is a sensation of airflow and you can stop breathing when you become obstructed,” said Gowrie. “It can happen 100 times an hour; sometimes it can happen five times an hour. It’s not nice when you wake up and you can’t sleep. You’re miserable and you’re irritable and you have an array of symptoms you can get.”

The solution? CPAP – a therapeutic treatment that continually administers positive pressure air flow to hold open the obstructed airway that is preventing air flow and you from falling asleep.

Gowrie said that whether your sleep apnea is severe or not, CPAP can make a difference.
“If you come in and you’re feeling like you’re always tired, you’re complaining of restless sleep, you are always feeling like you have no get up and go, a physician might say ‘well it isn’t severe apnea but let’s see if the treatment might help you’,” said Gowrie. “’Let’s try it and see if it makes a difference to you’ because often times it will.”

But Gowrie said that people should not try to self-diagnosis themselves with sleep apnea. With an exceedingly large amount of incorrect information online and circulating in communities, the first step is to go to a physician or a local sleep clinic so you can be diagnosed properly before further steps can be taken.

“Unfortunately there is a lot of outdated information and assumptions,” said Gowrie. “Take snoring. Not everyone who snores will have sleep apnea and not everyone who has sleep apnea will snore. But no matter how severe, sleep apnea should not go undiagnosed. The most severe side effects that come with untreated sleep apnea include stuff like high blood pressure, heart attack, strokes, diabetes. So there are very serious consequences of not getting your apnea treated.”

Nonetheless a CPAP machine can be costly, with prices starting at $860 and fluctuating according to the attachments you may want or need. But, Gowrie said that because the machine has been proven as top of the line for treating this ailment, funding is available to ease the pain – and cost .

“Because [CPAP] has been proven as the gold standard level of treatment, there is Ministry of Health funding that can help go towards purchasing the equipment,” said Gowrie. “This can alleviate some of the financial burden.”

But Gowrie said people must be aware that this is not a cure, but only a really helpful solution.

“There is no current cure for obstructive sleep apnea,” said Gowrie “Does CPAP control it? Yes it controls it. Does it cure it? No. Some surgeries are effective – and it can certainly help and you can benefit – but there is no cure. We can control the apneas, we can eradicate the apneas, but once you stop treatment and CPAP therapy you can go back to what you were before.”

Though CPAP therapy is the gold standard for treatment, there are other options available that can help you catch some z’s.

“Oral appliances can be prescribed by a dentist or orthodontist,” said Gowrie. “And weight loss and exercise should always be used in conjunction with the treatment. When we look at who we are as a society, we are just becoming a bigger and heavier society. Weight loss is a helpful component to maintaining sleep apnea and improving on it.”

Though sleep apnea has been found to affect 77% of overweight adults and excess weight has been linked to sleep apnea development and severity, weight loss is not always the solution.

“Even slim, very thin people come in with obstructive sleep apnea and there is no weight loss to undergo – they don’t have 100 pounds to lose – so that is not always the issue,” said Gowrie. “It’s a matter of finding out what is best for you.”

Along with weight loss and management, doctors and therapists suggest removing electronics from your bedroom, sticking to a consistent sleep schedule and limiting your alcohol and coffee consumption in conjunction with therapy.

So whether you are driven with the desire for a better, deeper or more restful sleep or spurred by a lack of energy and alertness during the day, experts suggest addressing your uneven sleep patterns as soon as possible so you can get back to a sleep routine that leaves you rejuvenated, alert and healthy.

For more information on Medelife Healthcare Services visit http://www.medelife.com/.