Sleep Apnea and its Children

Sleep and Death with their mother The Night. Images by Evelyn De Morgan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In Greek Mythology, Hera the wife of Zeus “sought out Sleep, the brother of Death,” in order to deceive Zeus.

But did you know that (as of today) sleep also has a cousin named  “Sleep Apnea”  with six children named Dementia, Depression, Diabetes, Stroke, Heart Failure, and High Blood Pressure?   This is a cousin we need to get to know before allowing him into our homes!

Sleep Apnea is a condition that causes a person  to stop breathing  during sleep.   This not only disrupts sleep but is also an indication of looming problems ahead as you can surmise from its list of “children”.  Estimates indicate that up to 22 million Americans have sleep apnea.  The startling fact is that 80 percent of people with moderate and severe  obstructive sleep apnea may not know they have it.

Because Sleep Apnea strikes while you are asleep, many people do not detect it as the cause of their daytime symptoms.  The sad truth is that this condition is often missed by doctors who attempt to treat its symptoms without ever directly targeting the underlying sleep apnea.  This results in years of poor treatment and slow degradation in the quality of life of the individual, due to daytime fatigue,  depression, dementia, etc.

Is Sleep Apnea Knocking At Your Door?

Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  1. Daytime sleepiness – such as difficulty staying awake while driving
  2. Complaints from your partner about loud snoring.
  3. Choking and gasping for air at night.  This can begin as bouts of deep breathing followed by shallow breathing. 
  4. Morning headaches – indicates lack of oxygen during the night. 
  5. Memory problems and difficulty concentrating
  6. Irritability
  7. Waking up frequently throughout the night.
  8. Dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up – caused by breathing through the mouth instead of the nose.
  9. Restless sleep
  10. Puffy eyes in the morning

What Can We Do To Fight back?

Discuss any of the above symptoms with your doctor and determine if you should have a sleep test.  Perhaps the sleep test can even be performed more cheaply in the comfort of your own home.  Don’t put this off because brain degradation is often irreversible and symptoms of dementia may not appear until a large percentage of neurons in critical areas have been lost.

If it is determined that you have sleep apnea, find out if it is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) or a mixture of the two.  OSA is caused by a blockage or collapse of the airway.  In some cases this can be prevented by:

  1. Losing weight
  2. Changing sleep position
  3. Other forms of natural treatment.  
  4. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is required .

In cases of CSA the problem originates when the brain ceases sending the correct breathing signals to the body through the brain stem.   CSA can be caused by any of the following:

  1. Congestive heart failure or stroke
  2. Side effects of medications
  3. Symptoms can develop while on CPAP therapy for OSA
  4. Other medical conditions may affect the brain stem, such as kidney failure, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS, etc.
  5. Idiopathic (unknown origin) –  Some believe that environmental toxins / pollutants such as mercury from dental fillings can cause CSA.

If you have CSA you must try to find and eliminate the root cause of the problem if possible before the damage to the brain stem progresses or becomes permanent.

Other strategies that may help reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea are:

  • Improve your air quality while sleeping by using an air filter, keeping windows cracked during sleep (assuming the air outside your bedroom is less polluted than the air inside),  and by keeping the air from becoming stagnant through the use of a small fan.
  • Avoid using foods with excitotoxins in their ingredients since it has been shown that sleep apnea kills the brain cells of guinea pigs by promoting glutamate-induced excitotoxicity.
  • Avoid alcohol consumption

Sleep is a precious gift – sleep apnea we can do without!


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