Not all people who snore have sleep apnea, a stoppage of breathing during sleep, but most, if not all, people who have sleep apnea, snore. The problem is that if a person has sleep apnea, they are likely dying a slow death.
I have snored for most of my adult life, and I’ve known it was bad. What I didn’t understand was that my snoring was a sign of sleep apnea, and it has affected the quality of my life. Left untreated, sleep apnea acts almost like a disease that nibbles away at a person’s health, until the body systems began to fail.
A sleep study, involving sleeping in a lab where I was observed all night, revealed that my breathing stopped 82 times…in one hour. In addition, my oxygen levels dropped below acceptable levels.
What that means is that the following health issues may have been caused by, or exacerbated by my sleep apnea:
Stroke: Five and a half years ago sleep apnea may have contributed to, or caused my Wallenberg stroke.
Fatigue: My sleep apnea likely has kept me from obtain quality sleep every night, and led to a near constant state of fatigue.
Overweight: Most of my life I have been able to eat almost anything and not gain weight; however, in the past twenty years, my weight has soared, and now I am almost sixty pounds over my recommended weight. While aging is a factor, sleep apnea, and the resulting fatigue is likely contributing to the issue.
High Blood Pressure: Sleep apnea is linked to high blood pressure, and my blood pressure has gone from borderline high to blood pressure that requires treatment with medication.
Brain Atrophy: After my stroke I had a MRI scan of my brain. The neurosurgeon wrote that I had brain atrophy, but he linked it to normal aging. Now I question the role sleep apnea has played in the shrinkage of my brain.
Depression: I have had issues with mild depression since my stroke. I believe most of the depression is linked to the frustrations with lingering effects of the stroke. Sleep apnea may be a primary cause of those issues, and/or it has had an effect on my overall sense of wellbeing.
Difficulty Exercising: I often become light-headed and mildly dizzy when a begin to exercise. Even a simple walk can generate the symptoms. If my brain is starved for oxygen at night, it might be establishing a deficit during the day that leads to a lack of oxygen for exercise.
Concentration: In the past few years I have written less. It is possible that sleep apnea has made it difficult to concentrate.
It is unclear how much sleep apnea has contributed to my health issues, as aging also contributes to many of the above symptoms; however, it is almost impossible to establish natural aging issues from issues caused by sleep apnea. It may take months for me to feel a difference using a machine to maintain an open airway at night.
Still, starving the brain and body of oxygen every night is going to cause damage over the long term. If left untreated, I won’t die of sleep apnea, but I will die of what sleep apnea does to my brain and body.