We took the opportunity to speak to Dr Carolyn Allen, a Consultant Physician specialising in sleep and respiratory medicine, to understand her insights as to how to improve sleep hygiene and manage sleep apnea.
What is a sleep disorder?Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for maintaining overall health, but for many people, it can be a struggle. There are several reasons why sleep can be disrupted and understanding the underlying cause can help you achieve better sleep. Despite what most people think, sleep disorders are much more common than we realise, and include a wide range of disorders that disrupt our sleep and leave us feeling tired and unrefreshed during the day. One such sleep disorder is sleep apnea, which is estimated to affect 1 in 5 people.1 Unfortunately, most people who suffer from this condition experience symptoms during sleep and they may not even be aware they have a problem, so they are left undiagnosed.
What is sleep apnea?In most cases, sleep apnea affects men over the age of 40, but it can affect men and women of any age (with increasing risk after menopause), as well as babies and children.1 It occurs when air stops flowing to your lungs for 10 seconds or longer because of an obstruction in the airway and is often accompanied by snoring. When your body senses that you have stopped breathing, it wakes you just enough to gasp and resume breathing, resulting in interrupted and non-restorative sleep.
How does sleep apnea affect the body?
During sleep, sleep apnea may cause multiple breathing interruptions, which can lower oxygen levels in the body. These disruptions can interfere with the body’s natural regenerative processes since the brain, muscles, and vital organs all need adequate oxygen to function. A person with sleep apnea may experience daytime tiredness, headaches, reflux, irritability, and mood swings.2 If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Excessive daytime sleepiness due to untreated sleep apnea is also associated with a significant increased risk of road traffic and work-place accidents.3-5
To manage sleep apnea, several factors must be considered, including physical, mental, lifestyle choices and environmental factors. The good news is that sleep apnea is fully treatable with multiple interventions, but early diagnosis is key.
The most common treatment for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure therapy, or CPAP therapy.6 It involves wearing a mask while sleeping that receives a continuous flow of pressurised air. Your airway is kept open and unobstructed by the pressurised air, leading to a more restful night’s sleep.
Make lifestyle changes
Obesity is one of the most common risk factors for sleep apnea, accounting for a substantial proportion of cases. The reason is that weight around the neck can put pressure on the airway, causing it to collapse during sleep. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help reduce snoring and improve overall health, leading to improved sleep.
When it comes to diet, it is also important to avoid alcohol and sedatives before bedtime, since they can reduce throat tension and lead to snoring. Certain foods, such as highly processed foods, sugary drinks, deep-fried snacks and refined carbohydrates can also make it difficult to sleep. The best way to sleep better at night is to avoid eating for at least three hours before bedtime, consume caffeine earlier in the day and eat a moderate amount before bed.
Create a good sleep environment
It is important that your bedroom promotes restful sleep. Having a comfortable, quiet bedroom can improve sleep quality and even help reduce the severity of sleep apnea.7
To create an optimal sleep environment, start by ensuring that your room is at a comfortable temperature of around 18°C. Additionally, minimise any noise or light disturbances in your sleeping area, such as notifications from electronic devices.
If you are sensitive to light, invest in dark drapes or use an eye-mask. If you live in a noisy household or neighbourhood, eliminate external noises with ear putty or equivalent products.
Invest in your bed
Lastly, invest in a mattress that suits your sleeping position. Your mattress should be supportive and comfortable to prevent discomfort and pain. Find out more about the bed best suited for your sleep needs with the Sealy Bed Selector tool.
Comfortable linen is important and it is best to regularly clean this to ensure good sleep hygiene. Over time, sweat, dead skin cells, and bacteria can accumulate in your bedding, which can lead to allergies or respiratory problems. Changing your quilt cover to suit the season can also help regulate your body temperature, preventing overheating or being too cold.
How do you sleep?
A good night’s rest starts with understanding how your mind and body work. A few simple changes to your day can make all the difference to your sleep, especially if you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. By changing your lifestyle and diet, along with getting CPAP therapy, you can treat and prevent your sleep apnea from becoming worse.
If you have sleep apnea symptoms or if your partner worries about your breathing while you sleep, you should consult your doctor and ask for a sleep test and/or referral to a sleep clinic.
About Dr. Carolyn Allen
Doctor Carolyn Allen (MBChB [UK], MRCP, and FRACP) is a Consultant Physician in Respiratory, Sleep and General Medicine. As a passionate advocate for sleep health, she works closely with the team at EdenSleep to raise awareness about sleep disorders. Together, they aim to diagnose and treat patients with hidden sleep issues to prevent health problems and improve their quality of life.
To learn more, visit EdenSleep.co.nz
- Young et al. Epidemiology of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Am J Resp Crit Care Med 2002.
- Engleman HM, Douglas NJ. Sleep. 4: Sleepiness, cognitive function, and quality of life in obstructive sleep apnoea/hypopnoea syndrome. Thorax. 2004 Jul;59(7):618-22.
- Babu et al. Type 2 diabetes, glycemic control, and continuous positive airway pressure in obstructive sleep apnea. Arch Intern Med 2005; 165: 447-452.
- Wolk et al. Sleep-disordered breathing and cardiovascular disease. Circulation 2003; 108: 9-12.
- Buchner et al. Continuous positive airway pressure treatment of mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea reduces cardiovascular risk. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2007; 176(12): 1274-1280.
- Romero-Corral A, Caples SM, Lopez-Jimenez F, Somers VK. Interactions between obesity and obstructive sleep apnea: implications for treatment. Chest 2010 Mar;137(3):711-9.
- Lappharat S, Taneepanichskul N, Reutrakul S, Chirakalwasan N. Effects of Bedroom Environmental Conditions on the Severity of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. J Clin Sleep Med 2018 Apr 15;14(4):565-573. tim.blog/2015/09/18/5-morning-rituals/