Men have a much higher risk of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), compared to women – 25% higher risk, studies show. The risk increases with age, as those between 60 and 70 years old are most likely to be affected by this medical condition.
There are two main types of sleep apnea – both affecting a person's breathing pattern during sleep and reducing the body's oxygen levels.
Central vs Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Central sleep apnea is quite rare and only affects about 1% of people. This condition involves messages from the brainstem that are not transmitted properly to the muscles that control breathing -- so breathing can slow or stop briefly.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common and affects 10-30% of adults. With OSA, the airways can become obstructed or blocked during sleep causing a brief interruption in breathing.
Although there may be some anatomical reasons for the blockage, in most cases the obstruction is due to the airways relaxing during sleep which blocks airflow. This creates a cycle of intermittent breathing during sleep
When this happens, the body wakes itself up to resume a normal breathing pattern. These constant interruptions in breathing and sleep mean that the body's oxygen levels are reduced, and sleep is disrupted.
Men: Do You Have Risk Factors?
While men are at greater risk, so are people who are obese, smoke and use alcohol. Like many conditions, family history of the condition can also increase the likelihood of developing the same problem.
There are some anatomical features that can also heighten the risk of OSA and these include having a small jaw and enlarged tonsils.
Typical Symptoms in Men
- Excessive and loud snoring: While many men snore, snoring related to sleep apnea is different -- much louder, more persistent, and accompanied by gasping or wheezing as the person struggles to breathe.
- Morning headaches: Symptoms of OSA can include morning headaches which disappear after a few hours. This is because of the lack of oxygen at night; the headaches tend to disappear once adequate oxygen levels are restored.
- Fatigue: Exhaustion and constant daytime fatigue are common symptoms. Without adequate deep sleep, the body cannot restore, refresh and rejuvenate itself. Fatigue and tiredness throughout the day can create difficulties at work and the ability to drive and function safely.
- Dry mouth: Snoring and open-mouth breathing can cause dry mouth.
- Mood: Poor sleep affects the ability to regulate your emotions and concentrate on tasks. Not surprisingly, symptoms of OSA include forgetfulness, irritability, moodiness and negative thoughts.
- Frequent urination at night: Due to lack of deep sleep, men with OSA may experience the need to urinate more frequently during the night.
There may be periods of silence when a person stops breathing, too. Usually, the person's partner is likely to notice these symptoms as the snoring is likely to disturb their sleep, too.
Other symptoms may include erectile dysfunction and night sweats.
Short and Long-term Health Effects
OSA can have a serious impact on your quality of life and close relationships. Lack of sleep and fatigue can increase the risk of accidents. Physically, people with sleep apnea have an increased risk of stroke, high blood pressure and coronary problems.
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
It's really important to see a doctor or health practitioner to obtain a diagnosis. This may include a sleep study. Once a diagnosis has been made, a suitable treatment plan can be developed.
There are some effective lifestyle changes that can help relieve the symptoms. These include losing weight, or changing your sleeping position, for example lying on your side rather than your back.
For some men, simple dental or nasal devices may offer support and help prevent the symptoms like snoring and also keep the airway open. For men with anatomical features that cause a blockage to the airways, surgery may be required.
However, for many men with moderate or severe sleep apnea, a CPAP (continuous positive airways pressure) device often provides relief from the symptoms.
CPAP devices use air pressure to keep the airways open at night. The air is delivered to the sleeper through a tube and mask which can be worn over the nose or face.
Men have a higher risk of sleep apnea and symptoms can be distressing and dangerous.
However, the good news is that sleep apnea can be treated. Talk to your doctor or health practitioner if you are experiencing any sleep apnea symptoms or feel that you may have sleep apnea.
For further reading, please follow the links: