Pregnancy is an exciting time, and you look forward to meeting your newborn in some months. However, it leads to changes in your body, some which you may have expected and others that you did not think would happen.
Among these is the infamous case of sleep apnea. If you have been feeling exhausted more than usual and feeling nauseous, it can be attributed as a normal part of pregnancy. However, these may also point to another problem – sleep apnea. If you have been going through unusual disturbances in your sleep, it could be probably due to this.
The thing is, suffering from sleep apnea and being pregnant at the same time is a very dangerous state of affairs. And you need to know the measures you should take to safeguard your health.
What is sleep apnea?
This is a sleep disorder that causes momentary pauses in breathing while you are asleep. Instead of the normal breathing in and out, you stop breathing for a short time and then spontaneously continue. The pauses can happen randomly throughout the night.
It is important to note that the condition is very common among pregnant women, with more than 45 percent of them going through it during their pregnancy. It leads to a major problem for your baby – it reduces the oxygen getting to the fetus.
A woman is most likely to develop the condition in the course of pregnancy, although it is not there as long as the woman is healthy before her pregnancy. In fact, it is more likely to happen if the woman has gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia.
What are the signs?
The number one sign you should never ignore is loud snores. Not all snorers have sleep apnea, but many snorers suffer from it. In addition, there is the complaint from the other partner of ‘choking sounds’, sputtering or coughing after pauses in breathing. These snores get progressively louder as you progress in the pregnancy, and the stops in breathing occur when the airway is disturbed, lasting about ten seconds each.
The awakenings or arousals and desaturations (reduction in oxygen levels of the blood) will also be direct results of the pauses and ineffective breathing and air supply.
If you are going through excessive levels of daytime sleepiness, that could be another sign. Even though it may be difficult to tell the difference between normal exhaustion that pregnancy causes and sleep apnea fatigue, the major sign is that with sleep apnea, you cannot stay awake during the day even if you wanted to. You find yourself dozing off during meetings or at work, or even when you are driving.
Other signs include waking up with a dry mouth, headaches in the morning, as well as frequent visits to the bathroom at night, and nighttime heartburns.
However, if you are healthy, sleep apnea should not be a problem for you. The progesterone hormone is high in pregnancy, and it serves to protect the body, since it activates the muscles that keep the airways open. It also increases the responsiveness of the brain to carbon dioxide, so the blood vessels dilate and the blood is allowed to deliver more oxygen to the tissues.
How you get sleep apnea
The answer is not as straightforward, as the causes of sleep apnea are many. In fact, sleep apnea is of three types, and each type has its own risk factors.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the air passageways are blocked by something, and this could be due to the shape of the upper airway. Another reason could be because of genetics – if someone in your family suffers from sleep apnea, you are likely to develop it too.
Obesity is also a cause of sleep apnea, because excessive amounts of tissue can block the airway, in addition to the additional pressure from excessive weight blocking the airways as you sleep.
Another cause could be the physical changes that the body goes through during pregnancy. For instance, the pregnancy hormones estrogen and progesterone increase significantly in the body, and they cause increased blood flow to the blood vessels in the nose. This leads to increased production of mucus in the nasal cavity and nose blockage, which can cause sleep apnea.
How you can prevent it
If you are going through excessive fatigue during the day and drowsiness, make sure that you talk to your doctor about it. Some measures that you can take on the advice of your doctor include sleeping on your left side instead of on your back, and losing excessive weight, as this is a major risk factor for high blood pressure and death during pregnancy.
Other measures include your doctor recommending some safe exercises you can do, sing breathing strips or sprays to help control blockage of the nose, and giving you a breathing mask (though this is in extreme cases).
CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is a method that utilizes the air pressure to help your airways stay open. You wear a mask over your mouth and nose as you sleep to help you breathe, while a tube connects the mask and a machine that delivers positive air pressure.
Surgery is another option, especially when your air passages have structural defects, although this option is rare. It is best done before or after pregnancy, not during the period in question, unless it is absolutely necessary.
Oral appliances are the most common management methods, as they are not as costly as surgery or the CPAP option. In addition, you can ask for a custom-made option, depending on what works for you, as there is not one-size-fits-all option.
It is important to take care of your health during pregnancy, for the sake of your child and you. Fortunately, sleep apnea is an easy condition to deal with once it is diagnosed, so make sure you get a doctor that takes the condition seriously, and will do tests on you and recommend solutions that will help you rest better on your Tuft and Needle mattress and restore your health.