If you’re like many of my patients, you’re exhausted all the time. Between long hours at the office, taking care of your family, stress, and a lack of sleep, it’s no surprise you feel wiped out by the end of the day. Yet if you’re still tired in the morning even after a full night’s sleep, feel like you could nap at any time, or you have a serious case of brain fog, you might have obstructive sleep apnea.
According to The National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, a condition that causes brief moments of stop-and-start breathing.
Since so many of my patients have the classic signs of sleep apnea like snoring and fatigue, I’m testing for it - and diagnosing - it nearly every week.
It’s important to make the diagnosis not only because of the fatigue and irritability, but because sleep apnea can clue us into other health conditions and diseases that are affecting your health now or could lead to problems down the line.
Perhaps one of the most important is hypertension, or high blood pressure. It’s because when you stop breathing, your oxygen levels fall and your body goes into stress mode. When that happens, it releases chemicals, like the hormone cortisol, and aldosterone, which drive inflammation insulin resistance and hypertension.
Not only that, but sleep apnea causes oxidative stress, or an imbalance of harmful free radicals and defensive antioxidants in your body. And over time, oxidative stress can actually damage your arteries.
The combination of oxidative stress and inflammation not only raises your blood pressure, but it could lead to heart disease, type-2 diabetes, cancer, and a slew of other health problems.
Not only that, but high blood pressure can carry over into the daytime waking hours when you’re breathing normally. Plus, when medication is prescribed, it may not even help.
So oftentimes when I know someone has high blood pressure - especially if it is resistant to medication - I’ll test for sleep apnea, and frequently that’s the root cause. NT-proBNP elevation can also be a clue that you have sleep apnea, since it is released when the heart muscle is under strain.
I’ll then order a home sleep study, which is much easier than spending a night in a lab, and it can confirm the diagnosis within a few days.
The good news is that sleep apnea is not only treatable, but often with diet and lifestyle changes it can often be reversed. In fact, one study found that people with sleep apnea and hard-to-control high blood pressure may be able to lower their blood pressure when they treat the sleep apnea. If you snore, are always tired, or have hard to control high blood pressure, it’s important to find out what is causing it.