The snorts, whistles, and gasps you make while sleeping may do more than rob you of a good night's sleep. This "snorechestra" may be a sign of sleep apnea, which can lead to heart trouble and shorten life, reports the November 2008 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.
People afflicted with sleep apnea temporarily stop breathing many times a night. In those with the most common kind, obstructive sleep apnea, the soft tissue of the palate or pharynx completely closes off the airway. The brain, sensing a drop in oxygen, sends an emergency "Breathe now!" signal that briefly wakens the sleeper and makes him or her gasp for air. This signal fires up the same stress hormones that go into overdrive when you are angry or frightened. They make the heart beat faster and boost blood pressure. They stoke inflammation, a key player in heart disease. They can damage blood vessels and increase the blood's tendency to clot, a root cause of heart attack and stroke.
The Harvard Heart Letter notes that you don't have to take sleep apnea lying down. Steps ranging from lifestyle changes to surgery can fight obstructive sleep apnea. Losing weight can make a big difference. Sleeping on your side and forgoing alcoholic drinks before sleeping may also help. For moderate or severe sleep apnea, most doctors recommend using a radio-sized machine that keeps the airway open by blowing pressurized air into the nose. Another option is a mouth guard that thrusts the jaw forward. Surgery may be an option, but usually isn't done unless other approaches don't work or aren't appropriate.
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