While many are vaguely familiar with sleep apnea and its potential risks, few realize just how widespread it is. According to the American Sleep Association, an estimated 25 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea!
To make matters worse, a vast majority of cases go undiagnosed. Roughly 80 percent of people who struggle to breathe at night don't even realize that their health is at risk! It's a growing issue that shows no signs of slowing down.
There are several ways to diagnose and treat sleep apnea. Typically, the go-to is wearing a breathing apparatus that provides positive airway pressure throughout the night. Specialists can also recommend different sleeping positions, lifestyle changes, and more.
But about getting assistance from a service dog?
Service dogs are wonderful companions that can help with everything from physical disabilities to mental health issues. Are they available for sleep apnea, too?
About Sleep Apnea
Before we get into canine matters, let's take a closer look at the sleep condition itself. To get some insight into how a service dog could help with sleep apnea, you must understand how the disorder affects your health.
The phrase "Sleep Apnea" is an umbrella term that describes a condition that affects your breathing as you sleep. People with sleep apnea can experience a wide range of symptoms. These include severe snoring, a pause in breathing, random gasps for air, and more.
While the issue might seem simple enough, it can cause some detrimental health problems if it goes unaddressed. Even a few seconds of not breathing deprives your brain and organs of the oxygen it needs to survive. Sleep apnea can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure, among other things.
It increases your risk of debilitating health problems. On top of all that, it can seriously impact your ability to get a good night of sleep! Many sufferers experience chronic drowsiness and an inability to focus throughout the day.
The symptoms and risks are the same across the board, but there are three types of sleep apnea. The most common is obstructive sleep apnea. Here, mechanical problems cause intermittent pauses in breathing. In central sleep apnea, the brain is to blame because it fails to send the right messages to the muscles that control breathing. Finally, there's complex sleep apnea, which is a combination of the two former types.
Regardless of which variant you experience, sleep apnea affects you when you're most vulnerable. Due to the nature of the disorder, most people have no way to address issues as they occur. For this reason, it's beneficial to have some third-party support.
How Service Dogs Address Sleep Apnea Issues
Believe it or not, service dogs can help sleep apnea! However, the adoption of service animals to treat sleep apnea and other sleep disorders isn't widespread just yet.
As with any other disability or health condition, a dog's capabilities depend primarily on its training. The use of service animals for sleep apnea is still in its infancy. But studies show that dogs hold a lot of promise for sufferers.
Service dogs can assist those with sleep apnea in a few different ways.
This is, perhaps, one of the most critical roles that service dogs can play.
The biggest problem with sleep apnea is its unpredictable nature. Symptoms can arise at any point throughout the night. Because you're already deep in sleep, you're unlikely to notice them occurring. Even if a gasp for air jolts you awake for a few seconds, the discomfort is not enough to wake you completely.
As a result, you can continue to suffer.
With proper training, service dogs may learn how to alert you of sudden issues. They can wake you up when breathing is interrupted or when a specialty breathing device slips off. Dogs are cunning creatures that can easily pick up on specific cues.
Service dogs already alert owners of blood sugar changes, autoimmune flareups, potential seizures, allergens, and more. Teaching them how to identify changes in breathing patterns isn't too much of a stretch.
In fact, documented cases of dogs responding to sleep apnea symptoms already exist. In 1997, the Houston Associated Press made a report about a Chihuahua that would nudge and paw its owner whenever their PAP mask slipped off.
In many cases, sleep apnea can continue to cause issues during the day.
Interrupted breathing impacts your ability to get a restful night of sleep. As a result, many sufferers feel drowsy and unfocused during the day. A lack of sleep can lead to poor work performance, constant distraction, and a host of other problems. It's a serious issue that many fail to consider.
If you suffer from daytime drowsiness, a service dog provides some much-needed companionship. A dog can help you stay present and provide assistance as you navigate your surroundings. More importantly, they serve as an alert to potential dangers and hazards throughout the day.
They'll notify you of immediate dangers. Not only that, but dogs can use non-verbal signals to make you more attuned to your environment. A dog's tail position can tell you a lot about its emotions, which can ultimately help you stay safe in sketchy situations.
Of course, service dogs can also provide emotional support.
Dealing with sleep apnea is not easy. It can cause severe anxieties that snowball into other areas of your life. For those who live alone, the stresses of sleep apnea are even more significant.
Dogs have a lot to offer in terms of companionship. Having a dog nearby can ease your anxieties and make you feel less alone as you deal with this disorder.
Because service dog training for sleep disorders is still in its infancy, it's not always easy to qualify for one. However, physicians can still recommend an emotional support dog. While slightly different from a full-fledged service dog, emotional support animals still enjoy many of the same benefits.
Help from a Canine Companion
Sleep specialists, trainers, and physicians are still figuring out how service dogs fit into the life of someone with sleep apnea. However, many believe that trained canines have a lot to offer.
A service dog can alert you to sudden changes in breathing during the night. Not only that, but they can provide protection, guidance, and emotional support throughout the day.
If you suffer from sleep apnea, it certainly doesn't hurt to have a furry friend that has your back. Speak with your doctor and see if exploring service dog options is the right choice for you. Your sleep disruptions are possibly insomnia or sleep apnea. Our sleep specialists at The Alaska Sleep Clinic can talk for free to get you back on track for a full night’s rest. Call us today .