For those of you who’ve never heard of apnea … I hope it’s because you don’t have it, rather than just because you haven’t been diagnosed with it. Apnea means ‘no breathing’ so I’m pretty sure you don’t have it All the time. (We don’t get many zombie readers.) Sleep apnea is temporary stoppages of breathing (or periods of really shallow breathing) while sleeping. In people with the issues that cause it, it can happen a lot … like 30 times an hour. That will leave you pretty much like this:
If you feel like that bird all the time, despite getting what seems like should be enough sleep, you may have sleep apnea without knowing it. When you’re not breathing enough, it spoils your sleep, so you wake up or leave the deep sleep for a light stage that doesn’t do as much to relieve tiredness (or reduce stress, or improve mental alertness, or consolidate memory and learning); but the person with the apnea is often too close to sleep during these disturbances to note or remember them.
Sleep apnea won’t kill you… directly. It may lead people sharing the room to contemplate doing so, since obstructive apnea also involves a lot of snoring and awakening with snorting and choking sounds. Obstructive apnea happens when air passages get blocked. Being obese is a big risk factor for it, as the tissues of the back of the mouth and throat thicken; but problems with the nasal passages can do it too. Kids may get it if their adenoids or tonsils grow.
Don’t let that fool you, though. Good sleep is an enormous quality of life issue, for one thing. You don’t realize how much poor sleep degrades your well-being until it happens. Lack of good sleep is also a major stressor, and we sure don’t need more of those when times get tough. Chronically, this stress promotes hypertension, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and similar nastiness.
So what’s to do about it if medical care isn’t available? Here are some thoughts to consider (yeah, you know the drill, not actual recommendations because I’m not an actual physician). On the up side, it’s not a thing treated with drugs, so those won’t be missed. On the down side, the biggest help are positive-pressure air supply devices (CPAPs), and those won’t work without power and maintenance. On the up side, weight loss helps a lot with many cases of obstructive apnea…but on the down side, we’re not prepping so we can have enforced weight loss during emergencies, now are we?
If you get it seen to while times are good, mouthpieces help a lot of people by repositioning jaw and tongue during sleep. Physicians, dentists, or orthodontists have all been known to help people make good choices.
Sleeping at a tilt can help if obstruction is the problem. If you’re sheltering in place, a comfortable recliner can be a Gift. Pillows can do the trick too, but specially designed ones are much better than just more standard pillows. They are light but bulky to pack, so you might check out the inflatable pool furniture for help.
Some kinds of obstruction, especially when allergies or other congestion is contributing, can be seriously helped by the simple, light, easily packed nasal strips. Pro tip: The adhesive on these things does not age well, so you’ll need to swap them out annually. Otherwise you might be manufacturing some homemade version that’s an even greater fashion statement, if you can believe it!
If sleep apnea is suspected, just listen to the sleeper. If you sleep alone, I bet your smart phone would record sound for later playback. The pauses in breathing are unmistakeable and abundant, if the situation is bad enough to be a problem. If there are periods of apnea but no snoring, your brainstem might be, well, forgetting to make you breathe. If there’s a lot of snoring and snorting and choking at the ends of the periods of apnea, it’s likely an obstruction problem.
Obstruction apnea is also worse if you fall asleep under the influence of alcohol or other sleep-inducing drugs. They cause extra relaxation of the throat tissues, promoting their collapse when you get into the deep sleep cycles.
*By Harald Hoyer from Schwerin, Germany (Tired) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons