Anyone can suffer from sleep apnea, from small children to the elderly, and while many people only have a minor version of the condition, serious sleep Apnea can be torture for sufferers - and will often be frightening to be around.

So, what is sleep apnea? Is there any way that a new bed or mattress can help sufferers?

What is Sleep Apnea?

The greek word apnea literally means "without breath", and sleep apnea is the term given for when people stop breathing intermittedly during their sleep.

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is caused when airflow ceases to reach the lungs during sleep, and is said to affect 4% of men and 2% of women. If a sufferer experiences periods of stopping breathing for greater than 10 seconds at any given time, more than 5 times within an hour, the Sleep Apnea is then classed as clinically significant. People with Sleep Apnea usually are, and appear very sleepy during the day, resulting in irritability due to the fact they have not had a good nights’ sleep. During a Sleep Apnea episode, the brain will wake you up to ensure your body can react and continue breathing; this is often represented by a loud snore.

Laying down flat, for those with Sleep Apnea, could actually make their condition worse. When your head is adjusted slightly, your airways adjust too, allowing more air to enter your lungs in certain positions. An adjustable bed could be the way forward. In 2017, 52 participants took part in a study to test the effects of head-of-bed elevation (HOBE) at an angle of 7.5° on OSA. The results showed, compared to baseline, HOBE “significantly decreased the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) from 15.7 [11.3–22.5] to 10.7 [6.6–16.5] events/h; p < 0.001 and increased minimum oxygen saturation from 83.5 [77.5–87] to 87 [81–90]%; p = 0.003”.

Further studies on this subject matter have been performed and also produce similar results; Kobayashi, Masato et al. studied effect of head elevation on the passive upper airway collapsibility during propofol anesthesia.

Effects of Sleep Apnea

The effects of Sleep Apnea, if untreated, aren’t something to be taken lightly. Although it may appear on the outside that someone with Sleep Apnea just snores loudly, as we’ve outlined, the sufferer stops breathing, sometimes hundreds of times during their ‘sleep’. The effects of the brain and the body not receiving enough oxygen can result in:

• High blood pressure
• Depression
• Diabetes
• Heart failure
• Strokes
• Headaches

As well as the high-risk effects of Sleep Apnea, someone who suffers from the condition will more than likely experience irritability, due to lack of sleep, resulting in a decline in their everyday activities, motor functions, and can also lead to narcolepsy.

Sleep Apnea Risk Factors

Although Sleep Apnea can affect anyone, regardless of age, there are some common risk factors to be aware of. The following people are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea:

• Overweight
• Over 40
• Male
• Large neck size
• Sufferers of nasal obstruction, allergies, or sinus issues
• Family history of Sleep Apnea

Improving your overall health and watching your weight can certainly help in treating mild cases of Sleep Apnea, as can avoiding alcohol and stopping smoking.

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Ways to improve Sleep Apnea

There are also studies, including this one by the University of Maryland Medical Centre, that show that changing your sleeping position from back sleeping to side sleeping can improve breathing and help sleep apnea sufferers.

“As a first step in dealing with sleep apnea, the patient should simply try rolling over onto the side. Patients who sleep on their backs and have 50 - 80 apneas per hour can sometimes nearly eliminate them when they shift to one side or the other. (Changing positions is less effective the more overweight a person is, but it still helps.)”

Can specific beds or mattresses improve Sleep Apnea?

As it's preferable for sleep apnea sufferers to sleep on their side, a softer mattress that supports sleepers' hips and encourages them onto their side may help them get a good night's kip. However, because apnea sufferers are likely to be heavier than regular sleepers, it's important not to go too soft. To fully understand how soft a mattress will feel to you and your partner's weight, we recommend you use our mattress firmness rating tool when browsing. firmness

Research on Sleep Apnea does also indicate that an adjustable bed may be a viable option in order to reduce the effects of Sleep Apnea. The reasoning behind this is because your head being placed at a higher elevation than your feet ensures that your tongue gets released from the back of your throat, allowing your airways to relax, therefore opening them. Most adjustable beds will allow you to incline and recline the head and legs of the bed, giving you the option to lie flat, or upright. Creating an incline on an adjustable bed will ensure that you are propped up in a comfortable position, altering the direction of gravity, removing the obstruction to your windpipe.

As well as being able to increase the amount of oxygen to your brain and body, the results should also reduce snoring, allowing you and those around you a more peaceful nights’ sleep. Improving sleep quality on the whole will certainly have a positive effect on your health; although an adjustable bed won’t cure Sleep Apnea, the research supports the positive improvement on some types of OSA.

Browse through our array of super-comfortable mattresses, and find one that gives you that great night's sleep you've always dreamed of.

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References Souza, F.J.F., Genta, P.R., de Souza Filho, A.J. et al. Sleep Breath (2017) 21: 815. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11325-017-1524-3 Kobayashi M, Ayuse T, Hoshino Y, et al. Effect of Head Elevation on Passive Upper Airway Collapsibility in Normal Subjects under Propofol Anesthesia. Anesthesiology. 2011;115(2):273-281. doi:10.1097/ALN.0b013e318223ba6d. Cat image courtesy of Sarah Giboni