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Sleep apnea can be controlled with practice

Dr. Veita Bland / October 2, 2015

It’s a matter of Your Health

Studies have found that using a cPap machine regularly for three months results in restoration of brain functions previously lost due to sleep apnea.

Studies have found that using a cPap machine regularly for three months results in restoration of brain functions previously lost due to sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a condition where one does not breathe for seconds to minutes while asleep. There are different types of sleep apnea.

The most common is obstructive sleep apnea. Here the air way is closed or obstructed by tissue and oxygen is unable to reach the lungs.
A second type of sleep apnea is called central sleep apnea. Here the brain does not send out the signal to breath. In both cases the end result is that oxygen is unable to reach the lungs, and the heart and the brain are oxygen deprived. This can result in organ damage.

Sleep apnea is seen more in men than in women, two and half times more in African Americans than in Caucasians and more in people after 50 years of age. We also see it more in obese individuals and it is believed to occur more in people with heart disease and strokes.

People will notice that they are tired no matter how much sleep they may be getting. This is because with sleep apnea the brain will sense a low oxygen level and will wake you up to take a breath that sometimes results in one making a gasping sound. This can happen up to 100 times in one hour. So a patient may be asleep but he or she is not getting quality sleep. Some will sit down and just fall asleep shortly thereafter. Others will fall asleep at a stop light.

I often ask patients to ask their sleep partners or relatives to watch them sleep for 15 minutes. I ask them to see if they stop breathing. I have had patients say their sleep partner awakens them because they have stopped breathing. If the sleep apnea is from obesity, expect the severity of the apnea to get worse with increasing weight.

A formal test called a sleep study is performed to diagnose the problem. Here you may sleep in a sleep lab overnight. Electrodes are attached to the brain and monitors to the chest to pick up any attempt to breathe and what is happening in the brain with the stages of sleep. If it is determined that sleep apnea is present, a titration study is performed to determine how much air pressure is needed to ensure a good nights sleep.

We have very effective treatments for sleep apnea. A mask or nasal prongs connected to a machine that blows pressurized air continuously thorough the breathing canal will solve the problem. A cPap, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure can save the day. Unfortunately, many people who understand the need for the machine refuse to use it. Some say they cannot tolerate the mask. Others just do not like them.

It is well known that a lack of oxygen to the heart and brain is harmful and can result in additional heart disease and brain dysfunction.
New studies have found that a relatively high number of people with sleep apnea are also depressed. These studies have found that using the machine regularly for three months resulted in a marked decrease in depression and other studies have shown how using the machine resulted in restoration of brain functions previously lost.

If you are one of those who does not use your cPap, work with your supplier on finding the right mask or nasal prongs that work for you. Machines can be programed to provide the full amount of airway pressure for you after you have had it on for a while so hopefully you are asleep and will not notice the pressure. Make every effort to make the machine work for you. It really does make such a difference in the quality of the life you live, the interactions with your family and friends and your heart and brain health.

Veita Bland is a board certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Email Dr. Bland at


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