The Three Best Things You Can Do If You Think You Have Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition in which an obstruction of some sort—it can be a total obstruction or only partial—makes it difficult or impossible for you to breathe in your sleep. Usually, this is a total obstruction, but if you snore, you may have a partial obstruction that could be on its way to becoming total.

When people have sleep apnea, they stop breathing and then wake up just enough to shift around and force themselves to start breathing again. These sessions of waking up are so light and fast that many people don't realize they're waking up at all. They just wake up in the morning feeling like they haven't slept well at all. If you've been experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea—such as the feeling of not getting rest, headaches, dry mouth, and moodiness—you should see a professional to get diagnosed and start treatment as soon as you can. With that in mind, here are three things you need to do now.

Get in to See a Sleep Specialist as Soon as Possible

Call your doctor at the next opportunity (now if possible) to arrange to be referred to a sleep specialist. If your health insurance allows you to go straight to a specialist without a referral, start checking around. You will undergo a sleep test and then, if diagnosed with sleep apnea, have the doctor find the cause of the apnea. It could be anything from a bad pillow to loose tissue in your mouth that hangs down when you're asleep and blocks your airway.

If You Need to, Start Reducing Your Weight

One potential cause of sleep apnea is excess weight. Note that not everyone who has excess weight will have sleep apnea, and many people without excess weight do have sleep apnea. But for some people, that weight is just enough to press down on their airways as they try to sleep on their back. If you carry excess weight and notice you're having sleep apnea symptoms after you try to sleep on your back, but not when you sleep on your side, it would be helpful to try to start reducing your weight. This is obviously easier said than done and can bring up a lot of past hurt. But if you suspect your weight might be contributing, then starting the process to reduce a bit is a good idea. Speak with a dietitian about this. The goal here is to make it easier for you to breathe in your sleep.

Double-Check Your Sleep Hygiene

While your sleep hygiene—the amount of blue light exposure you have, the room temperature, and so on—isn't really a cause of sleep apnea, it can make things worse in two ways. One is that poor sleep hygiene makes it harder to relax and stay asleep, so those times you wake up, you might have a harder time falling back asleep. The other is that your pillow could be so old that it's not giving you good support for your neck and head, creating odd angles that close off your airway even more. You could also be getting tangled up in the sheets and creating the same problem of cutting off the air for yourself. Make sure your pillow is the right type for you, and make sure your room is comfortable and allows you to fall asleep easily.

If you notice that you show signs of sleep apnea, see a sleep specialist for sleep apnea treatment.