Sleep Apnea: Facts and Risks

March 3, 2016 at 3:26 am


Good quality sleep is fundamental for your health. Without it, you are at risk for a number of diseases. Even the chance of having a car accident significantly increases with poor sleep.

One particular form of sleep disturbance, which is increasingly common, is called sleep apnea. The most common form of sleep apnea is ‘obstructive’ sleep apnea, where the upper airway collapses, restricting air flow into your body (therefore limiting oxygen) – basically, you stop breathing multiple times each hour every night. Twenty percent of adults have a mild level of sleep apnea and about 7% have a moderate to severe form. Many are undiagnosed but have signs of sleep apnea; studies have estimated over 25% of adults have several symptoms or risk factors associated with a high risk of having or developing sleep apnea.

In this article I will reveal important facts and risks on sleep apnea: what are the signs, impacts on the body and effective treatments. This is sleep awareness week, so it’s a good time to work on improving your sleep quality and encouraging it for your whole family.

Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea

One of the most disturbing signs of sleep apnea is the long pauses of stopped breathing; they can last 10-30 seconds and are often followed by waking up abruptly with shortness of breath. These periods of reduced breathing happen several times every hour. Over the course of a night, your oxygen levels go lower and can lead to daytime symptoms such as headaches. The most disastrous effects of sleep apnea are the increased number of accidents that occur during the daytime, including driving and at work.

• Daytime sleepiness
• Loud snoring followed by silent pauses
• Gasping or choking or coughing sounds during sleep
• Morning headache
• Irritability or mood changes
• Poor concentration or memory loss
• Acid reflux
• Lowered sex drive
• Frequent waking to urinate
• Falling asleep while driving

Effects of untreated sleep apnea

There are several downstream effects of having sleep apnea. Your levels of inflammation increase, your oxygen levels can be low, and your mood and mental state are affected.

• High blood pressure
• Stroke
• Heart attack
• Heart arrythmia
• Motor vehicle collisions
• Depression
• Decreased sexual function
• Blood glucose imbalance
• Work-related injuries
• Inflammation


There are a range of treatments available. Often, your doctor will first recommend a ‘sleep study’ (polysomnography) so your sleep pattern and breathing habits can be monitored during sleep. The most common treatment is using a breathing device called a

CPAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure). This device helps to keep your soft tissues at the back of your mouth from collapsing your airway. Other options are use of a mandibular advancement splint (MAS) and upper airway surgery to remove some of the soft tissue in your mouth. They all can be effective and it’s important to discuss your options with your primary health professional.

About 50% of those with sleep apnea also suffer from acid reflux, so often treatment for that can be important as well. Besides the antacid and acid blocking medications, other naturopathic and herbal supplements can be useful, including apple cider vinegar, licorice extracts, and ginger.

Prevention and management

The most important strategies are your lifestyle changes. Losing weight, particularly reducing your percent body fat, helps to reduce the severity of obstructive sleep apnea. Of course, weight loss is associated with a number of other health benefits: less acid reflux, better blood pressure and cholesterol, better mood, etc.

Another useful way to manage sleep apnea is to ensure you sleep on your side rather than on your back; this will reduce the chance of your soft tissues in your mouth and throat to collapse and block your airway. A simple tip to keep you sleeping on your side is to sew a pocket on the back of your sleepwear top where you can place a tennis ball; so when you unconsciously move to sleep on your back, the tennis ball stops you and makes you go back on to your side.

About the Author

Rahim Habib is a registered naturopathic doctor with over 15 years of experience in general family practice. He has a special interest in helping patients comprehensively detoxifying their bodies for preventative and therapeutic benefit. He also has a special interest in children’s health, assisting kids in their learning and behavioural health with conditions such as ADHD, Autism spectrum, asthma, allergies and childhood obesity. He also helps adults with chronic conditions, such as thyroid disorders, infertility, inflammation, obesity, autoimmunity, dementia and cancer care. He is the director of the Four Seasons Naturopathic Clinic for Detoxification and Healing and can be reached at 905-597-7201 or