Sleep apnea is a common condition that affects breathing during sleep. It causes irregular breathing that interrupts much needed deep sleep. Sufferers from sleep apnea tend only to have light sleep instead of the full, normal deep sleep that revitalizes and reenergizes the body. There are three different types of sleep apnea: central, complex, and obstructive. Obstructive sleep apnea is where the throat becomes blocked and is the most common form. One in 15 Americans suffer from some form of sleep apnea. The warning signs are often noticed by the sufferers' partners as they include snoring, choking, and gasping for air in addition to pauses in breathing. If you are regularly tired despite many hours sleep, you may suffer from sleep apnea and benefit from sleep testing. It often goes undetected for many years and many people become conditioned to it, becoming accustomed to functioning on the poor quality sleep.

Negative Effects in the Workplace

The effects of interrupted and light sleep are fatigue, irritability, depression, and difficulties in concentrating. In the work place, the effects of sleep apnea can significantly affect productivity, safety (especially for employees in safety sensitive positions), and work place happiness. It can also place a strain on personal relationships and cloud employees’ judgement. Over the long term, the negative health effects go far beyond fatigue and lack of concentration. Sleep apnea raises the risk of high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, obesity, and diabetes. All of these conditions not only negatively affect the employee, but the quality of the employee's work. Because of these issues, it is in an employer's best interest to assist employees with getting treatment for sleep apnea and include its coverage in health plans as well as addressing it in wellness programs.

Top Treatments for Sleep Apnea

1. Lifestyle Changes

Losing weight is a key lifestyle change that is linked to improvements in sleep for sleep apnea sufferers. Overweight people have more tissue located in the back of the throat which can block the airways. Losing weight can help to reduce this soft tissue. Avoiding alcohol also helps, because alcohol relaxes the muscles. When the throat muscles are relaxed, they tend to close. The same applies to sleeping pills and sedatives. Cutting out caffeine also helps, as it is a stimulant and is not conducive to deep sleep. Exercise is also reported to have positive benefits, as is keeping a regular bed time. For a slightly different approach, singing is a good way to strengthen the throat muscles in order to help reduce soft tissue blockage. Strong muscles in the throat are less likely to close and allow for free movement of air.

2. Sleep Adjustments

There are a few tricks and techniques to adjusting your sleeping habits that can help sufferers of sleep apnea. One of them is to sew a tennis into the back of your nightwear. The bump of the ball stops you from rolling over and sleeping on your back, which is bad for sleep apnea sufferers. Lying on your back causes the soft tissues and tongue to drop and can block the airways. Raising the head by using an additional pillow, using a special cervical pillow, or by placing small risers under the head of the bed can adjust the angle of the body during sleep to combat sleep apnea. Other tips include keeping your nasal passage open, meaning that you are not relying solely on breathing through your mouth. Nasal dilators, nasal sprays, allergy treatments, and breathing strips can assist in keeping the nasal passages open.

3. Medical Treatments

A popular treatment that has received positive responses is Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP). This machine directs oxygen through the airways via a face mask. The air flow keeps the air passages open and helps to give your body the air it needs. This requires sleeping with a face mask which is off-putting for many patients. The results however, include restful sleep and a feeling of being reenergized and focused the next morning. CPAP machines are evolving constantly, and patients are reporting better and better results.

4. Dental Devices

For mild cases of sleep apnea, there are dental devices available that will either reposition your jaw to facilitate opening of the airways, or keep your tongue away from blocking your throat. They are worn as a mouth guard over the teeth and as such can be uncomfortable as well as having the potential of realigning the jaw and teeth. Some patients also report salvia build-up and nausea. It works for some sleep apnea sufferers, but like all treatments, is not guaranteed to be effective and you may find the discomfort to outweigh any benefits

5. Medical Procedures

For severe cases of sleep apnea, surgery may be the only solution. Surgery for sleep apnea usually involves removing soft tissues, tonsils, or adenoids that are causing an obstruction. It some cases, the airways can be enlarged through jaw realignment surgery. It is recommended that other options are tried first as surgery carries risks. Specific surgery types to relieve the symptoms of sleep apnea include tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, tracheostomy, soft palate implants, and bariatric surgery.

If you suspect you are suffering from sleep apnea, consult your physician. Your physician may feel it is worth exploring home remedies and lifestyle changes, along with doing a sleep study that will measure things like wake time after sleep onset, before invasive medical intervention, as surgery is not a guarantee of success and in some cases can make the condition worse. If successfully treated, you will likely see an increase in quality of sleep and feel physically and mentally rejuvenated.