By, Dr. Kerris Dillon
Sleep Apnea is one of the scariest medical problems that currently exists. I didn’t realize how frightening Sleep Apnea was until I took 2 colleges classes in Anatomy and Physiology for fun. Yes, you read that right…for fun. I am a nerd and will always be a nerd. I am very proud of that. I figure the more college classes that I take at the local community college, the more it will help my own subject matter. I teach psychology at the local community college and each semester I am allowed to take one college class for free. Why not take advantage of it?
I was very disturbed when the Anatomy and Physiology class started talking about Sleep Apnea, though. I really didn’t think about the health consequences that can arise from undiagnosed Sleep Apnea. There are two ways that Sleep Apnea can drastically impact the health and well-being of a person, which are 1) a lack of oxygen to the brain, and 2) sleep deprivation and its medical consequences.
When someone suffers from Sleep Apnea, the oxygen that is supposed to make its way to the brain does not quite make it. This is because the trachea is around 4 inches long and is about 1 inch in diameter. If this tube becomes obstructed, the amount of oxygen needed for the human brain is diminished. The brain then senses a lack of oxygen and sends messages to the rest of the body to produce more oxygen. What part of the body carries oxygen? That’s right! Red blood cells!
When you have Sleep Apnea, your brain signals your body to make more red blood cells because it wants more oxygen. Where are red blood cells made? They are made in the bone marrow. This is why individuals that have Sleep Apnea are generally exhausted all the time because their body is working overtime creating red blood cells as well as not reaching important stages of sleep like REM (rapid eye movement).
When we fall asleep each night, we need to get into the stages of sleep called REM (rapid eye movement). This is the cycle of sleep in which we dream, but our brain and body chemicals are being refilled. Individuals that drink alcohol, use sedatives, or tranquilizers often don’t reach stages of REM because those drugs don’t allow them to until they have moved out of the liver. This is why mixing medications and drugs is so dangerous as well because the liver can only detoxify one substance at a time. College students find out very quickly that if they mix Xanax or valium and alcohol, they will get drunk faster, but the chance of them dying increases because their bodies can become toxified very quickly.
Reaching pertinent stages of REM sleep is imperative for good health, wellbeing, and a long life. When a person has Sleep Apnea and the obstruction of their breathing is hampered, not only does oxygen not make it to the brain, but the individual does not reach adequate levels of REM. Sleep deprivation from REM has many health consequences including limitations of the Central Nervous System, memory lapses, a limiting of coordination, a lack of creativity, mood problems, impulsive behavior, suicidal ideas, a break in a person’s circadian rhythm, being at-risk for more viruses and diseases, an increase risk of diabetes, problems with respiration, weight gain, a lack of proper digestion, an increase in inflammation, lowers metabolism, problems with blood pressure and heart rates, an increase risk of stroke, problems with hormone production, a lack of growth hormone, and lack of effectiveness given vaccinations.
So, not only is it important to sleep enough hours within a day, but it is also important to make sure your sleep is adequate. Over-the-counter sleep medications often have tranquilizing effects that will impact your ability to get into REM sleep. Try alternatives like white noise, exercise during the day, sleep meditations, essential oil, or a weighted blanket to help you snooze. If you are not feeling rested from sleep, please see your doctor and set up a sleep study to make sure you do not have Sleep Apnea. The health consequences can be disastrous and we all want to live long and healthy lives to spend more time with our loved ones.