Health AreasNon-communicable Diseases

Counting sheep no more, silencing Sleep Apnea

When English writer and poet Thomas Dekker described sleep as the golden chain that ties our bodies and health together, he had the benefits of relaxation in mind. The body needs its rest.

For April Yeung, a Kenya Authorised Travel Specialist in the US, it’s easy to fall asleep especially after a hard day’s work. But, the trouble always began when her eyes shut.

Her sleep was troubled.

The nights were miserable and anxious.

The snores took over.

These loud snuffles disturbed her husband, but he bore it all lovingly.

She woke up exhausted.

The mornings became dull.

The day’s long and exhausting.

Due to this disturbed sleep pattern, she lost her job.

April Yeung is creating awareness on sleep apnea

“I was tired every time and the doctors couldn’t tell the actual cause until I took a sleep test. When you are tired all the time, it can be very dilapidating,” April said. The doctor said it was worsened by being overweight and by a structural dysfunction in her nose.

What happens during a sleep test?

You are connected to equipment that monitors your heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels while you sleep to check for irregular sleep pattern. She was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes pauses in breathing while asleep. Together with her doctor, they drew a lifestyle change. She had to lose more than half her weight.

Treatment began immediately and today, travelling has become a large part of her job as a travel agent. She makes plans to ensure there is a reliable source of electricity by her bedside at her destinations for the Continuous Positive Airway pressure machine. Abbreviated as CPAP, the machine prevents snoring by delivering just enough air pressure through a mask to keep upper airway passages open. Today she enjoys, sweet and soothing sleep and is even more productive and also enjoy her social and related work trips.

The CPAP machine ensures the airways remain open when asleep

She made her maiden visit to Kenya a few weeks ago with colleagues as part of a familiarization tour organized by the Kenya Tourist Board  to experience Kenya’s magical hospitality. They visited Karen Blixen, the Giraffe Centre, Sagana for water rafting, Mt Kenya Safari Club, Lewa Conservancy and Diani for a swim in the warm waters on the Kenyan coast.

Back to sleepy matters, how can you assess your risk of sleep apnea?

Well, science says that your weight has a great role to play and it determines whether you will count sheep all night. Your risk for sleep apnea is higher if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more or you are obese with a BMI of 30 or higher. The weight has to come down, my friend. “One of the immediate lifestyle changes is I had to make is to lose weight. I have lost half of it and I still have a long way to go but I am happy with the progress so far,” said April.

And if you have neck size of 17 inches or more for men, or 16 inches or more for women, this also presents a risk because you have more soft tissue that can block your airway when asleep. This sleep disorder is also more common in men than women.  If you also come from a family where there is a family member with sleep apnea, there is a high chance that it has been passed on to another family member. Increased alcohol intake, smoking and nasal congestion have also been associated with this condition.

There are three types of sleep apnea;

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea- partial or complete blockage of the airways during sleep.
  • Central sleep apnea- the brain temporarily fails to signal the muscles responsible for controlling breathing.
  • Complex Sleep Apnea- a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea symptoms

The signs and symptoms include;

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Morning headache
  • Lack of sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Irritability

However, not all persons who snore have sleep apnea.

Whereas it may seem normal to have interrupted sleep and carry on your day as normal, the cumulated effects of sleep apnea can be life threatening. Some of the major warning signs include frequent loud snoring, choking, or gasping for air during sleep, pauses when breathing, shortness of breath or daytime fatigue and sleepiness.

Today, April is happier and enjoys quite an exciting lifestyle of uninterrupted sleep. Every bright morning, she is thankful that she slept well. In fact, she is warmed by the sun, rocked by the winds and sheltered by the eight hours of rest she enjoys.

Good Night America,

Good Morning Kenya!!

Whichever side of the tropics you are, have a great night’s rest today, will you!!!

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