At The Alaska Sleep Clinic we have heard just about every excuse possible from patients about why they didn't believe their sleep apnea (or other sleep disorder) was a major cause for concern. Many of these patients didn't realize they had a problem until a loved one showed concern for their sleeping habits. Others weren't convinced serious health problems could result from sleep troubles. And quite a few people were more worried about the cost of having a sleep study than the negative impact that living with a sleep disorder could have on their lives.
That's why we decided to compile a list of the six most frequently heard excuses people have for not seeking treatment for their disorder, and the truth that will hopefully help others with the same beliefs realize just how wrong they are.
"It's just sleep – Not my real health"
Do you really believe that sleep has no influence on your overall health? It's difficult to believe that with all of the studies that have been conducted on the relationship between sleep and health – and the conclusive evidence that sleep troubles can lead to a slew of medical problems – that some people still believe sleep is nothing more than a period of inactivity.
Your mind and body need sleep to properly function during the day. And more than that, they need to enter certain phases of sleep to perform rejuvenating tasks that keep you healthy and alert during the day.
While you sleep, amazing things are happening to your body such as your muscles get repaired; your tissues regenerate; hormones get released to help with growth, strength and development; your memories get consolidated to help you process information faster and to help you remember important things; and overall cognitive functions improve.
But if you're still not convinced of the great things that happen during sleep, here's some of the horrible things that can happen from sleep deprivation or untreated sleep apnea:
Cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), coronary heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.
Daytime drowsiness makes you more likely to have accidents at work or while driving.
Untreated sleep apnea can cause complications with surgeries and other medical procedures.
Increased risk of obesity
- Lower sex drive/impotence
Higher probability of developing diabetes
And similar to this argument (and equally unsubstantiated) is...
"Snoring is just an irritating sound. It's not harmful."
We'll start with the correct portion of this statement: snoring is a very irritating sound for anyone who has the misfortune of sleeping close to a snorer. Snoring in itself is nothing more than the sound created from vibrations in the upper respiratory system as air is being blocked from freely moving to the lungs.
And while it may appear to be just an annoying sound, it can actually be quite telling of your health. When your airway is being partially, or completely, blocked by tissues in your throat as they collapse into the airway, your body isn't getting enough oxygen in its blood stream.
The dip in blood oxygen saturation forces your brain to partially awaken from sleep to make your body increase breathing effort. This has two negative effects. The first is that when your brain awakens from deep sleep to send signals to your body to breathe, it's not doing all of those important restorative processes discussed earlier as it instead has to focus on the simple act of breathing. The second effect is that in order to increase the amount of oxygen getting to the various systems, your blood vessels constrict to produce a heavier flow to compensate for the low amounts of oxygen in the stream. This leads to hypertension, even while awake, which is a common symptom of other cardiovascular problems.
And don't forget, when your partner is kept awake at night from your incessantly loud snoring, they're not getting quality sleep either, and they may also experience some of the effects of sleep deprivation.
"This is how I've always slept."
Oh yeah, and how's that working out for you? If your sleeping habits were just fine, you wouldn't be experiencing any troubles at night or during the day; it's not a sleep disorder unless it's having a negative impact on your life. If everything were fine, it would just be called "sleep."
Too often we see patients that have simply become accustomed to feeling tired and terrible all of the time; they have simply grown to accept that "this is just how life is."
For some of these people, it's been such a long time since they experienced a good night's sleep, that they've completely forgotten what it feels like to awaken fully refreshed. And for some reason it's difficult to convince them that they can achieve good night's sleep if only they actively pursue diagnosis and treatment.
We see many patients who finally give CPAP therapy a try, and it's like seeing a light go off above their heads as they clearly see what they've been missing out on for so long. Being a part of the moment when you get to share with a patient what sleep should feel like, is what motivates us to continue educating patients on the benefits of treatment.
"Couldn't I just lose weight?"
This is actually a question that has some validity to it. Yes, if you lose weight you could potentially decrease the severity of your sleep apnea. But here's the problem: sleep apnea isn't always an affliction of the overweight or obese. While weight can be a strong indicator of sleep apnea, it's not the only prevailing condition. Many people with healthy BMI's also have sleep apnea.
Another problem is that just because you lose weight, doesn't mean your sleep apnea will go away entirely. In many cases, weight loss can contribute to an overall lower apnea hypopnea index (AHI), but not always to a level where therapy isn't necessary.
If you want to lose weight to help reign-in your sleep apnea troubles, that's fantastic, and we always applaud anyone making positive changes to their health. But, you should still consult with your primary care physician to see if you still need CPAP therapy. While losing weight may not make your sleep apnea disappear altogether, it can lead to lower, more tolerable, pressure settings on your CPAP machine, making therapy much easier to comply with.
And speaking of CPAP pressure...
"I don't want to sleep with a mask forever"
When you first start off on CPAP therapy, it can be challenging getting used to wearing a piece of equipment on your face that continuously blows air into your lungs all night. We're not going to argue that adjusting to CPAP therapy can be challenging, but we will argue that it is achievable, and once you experience the benefits of great sleep, you'll learn to not only accept the mask, but to prefer it.
Think of it like exercising for the first time in a long time – it sucks. Your muscles burn, your body hurts, your lungs feel like they're going to explode, but you also feel...better. In fact, after working out a few times you feel great. The discomfort experienced while working out is nothing compared to how you feel afterwards.
The same can be said of wearing a mask every night. It may be a nuisance at the beginning, but you will quickly realize the amazing feeling of quality sleep far outweighs the inconvenience of wearing a mask.
Not only that, but with so many shapes and styles of masks to choose from, you are bound to find one that works for you.
Furthermore, there are other alternatives to CPAP machines that include dental devices, surgeries, and equipment similar to CPAP machines that can make treatment more tolerable.
"It's too expensive"
And now we arrive at the one concern that just about everybody can agree on – COST. Medical procedures can be quite costly, and some people would rather continue living with a malady or disorder rather than figuring out a way to pay for treatment. And it's true; the cost of a doctor visit, a sleep study, and purchasing durable medical equipment (DME) can rack up a hefty bill.
As proof of how important the cost of a sleep study is to patients, one of our most popular articles that patients love to read is titled, "How Much Does a Sleep Study Cost?" with nearly 20,000 views.
But here's what you may not know about the cost of a sleep study and sleep apnea treatment, most insurance policies cover sleep apnea treatment. This is because they realize that treating sleep apnea is cheaper than treating the slew of cardiovascular problems that can arise from untreated sleep apnea.
So before you rule out treatment because of cost, check with your insurance carrier to see what your policy allows, and your estimated out-of-pocket expenses. You may be surprised to discover just how affordable treatment is.
Hopefully we've helped dispel some of the common arguments people have for not treating their sleep apnea. If you live in Alaska and are ready to finally experience the benefits of a full night's sleep, contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic to receive a free 10-minute phone call with a sleep educator, and see if a sleep study is right for you.