With so many health problems that circulate around truck drivers, it’s hard to see the positive side in all of it. But health problems that can be reversible? Now there’s something to get excited about. Sleep apnea is a condition that not only affects a good night’s sleep, but it can also affect day-to-day activities – most importantly while driving.

Many drivers are now being diagnosed with sleep apnea, and fear that a diagnosis will mean wearing a Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) mask at night. This mask is the most common medical treatment that provides a constant stream of air to keep breathing passages open during sleep. But luckily there are things that you can do to change your health so that if you are diagnosed, you don’t have to live with the CPAP mask forever.

Sleep Apnea
 
What is Sleep Apnea? 
Sleep apnea is a condition that causes shallow breathing, and pauses in breathing at night. This causes a disruption in the natural sleep cycle, and can lead to less energy and mental sharpness during the day.

This condition has been linked to a number of other health risks over time, such as high blood pressure, stroke, and weight gain.

The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when tissue in the back of your throat relaxes and blocks your airway, resulting in loud snoring.

There are two other types that include central sleep apnea (involving the central nervous system), and complex sleep apnea (a combination of obstructive and central). A healthcare professional can provide an accurate diagnosis of the condition.

What are the symptoms? 
Major signals are if pauses occur when you snore, and if choking or gasping follow the pauses. You may not notice these symptoms on your own, so ask your partner to observe your habits – or record yourself during sleep. One app that can assist you with this is Sleepbot, available on both iPhone and Android.It is important to note that snoring does not necessarily indicate that sleep apnea is present. Be sure to note your daytime behavior as well to help determine if you might be at risk.
 Sleepy driver
Other common signs and symptoms:

  • Headaches in the morning
  • Difficulty remembering things, or concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Dry mouth or sore throat upon waking
  • Dozing off when driving, or stopped at a light
  • Dozing off when not busy or active

High-risk factors associated with sleep apnea include:

  • If you have high blood pressure
  • If you have a collar size of 17-inches or greater
  • If you are overweight
  • If you are a man
  • If you are related to someone that also has sleep apnea
  • If you are a smoker

What can I do to treat my Sleep Apnea? 
Although weight loss takes time, it is one of the best ways to treat sleep apnea. Here is a great article about getting started with weight loss, and here are some apps you can download to help along the way.  Some cases have shown that losing a significant amount of weight can cure the condition entirely, but even just losing 10% of body weight can have a big effect on symptoms.

In addition to weight loss, here are some other tips:

  • Quit smoking, as it increases fluid retention in your throat.
  • Avoid alcohol or sedatives at bedtime. They relax throat muscles causing an interference with breathing.
  • Try sewing a tennis ball into a pocket on the back of a t-shirt. When you sleep in the shirt, it will prevent you from rolling onto your back. It is better to sleep on your side, as gravity can cause your tongue and soft tissues to drop and obstruct your airway.
  • Prop up your body from the waist-up during sleep by using a foam wedge or cervical pillow.

Be sure to see a doctor immediately if you suspect sleep apnea, as it is a potentially serious disorder. However taking the right steps towards weight loss and lifestyle changes is the best way to move towards healing.

For additional resources or questions about sleep apnea visit the American Sleep Apnea Association, or consult your healthcare professional.

Sources:
http://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/sleep-apnea.htm
http://www.prevention.com/health-conditions/sleep-apnea


Image sources:
Photo #1: https://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/
Photo #2: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tamakisono/

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