We hope you enjoyed our Bedhead Morning Selfie Challenge this month!
It was our goal to have fun with the idea of bedheads and selfies while raising awareness about sleep health
The American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) launched the Sleeptember campaign to use the power of social media as a force for community, support, advocacy, and fundraising.
These efforts have accomplished a number of things. Sleeptember has helped to:
- raise awareness in the public about the dangers of untreated sleep disorders, such as (but not limited to) sleep apnea
- connect people with the sleep disorder support groups and services they need (such as our CPAP Assistance Program, local A.W.A.K.E. groups, and the Sleeptember Forum)
- encourage people of all health statuses to join the free study encased in our easy-to-use SleepHealth App, which collects data on a longitudinal scale that can be tapped to further research into sleep health on an enormous scale.
And speaking of research…
More clinical observation, study, and research is needed to identify potential cures for many sleep disorders.
Of course, as our nonprofit name suggests, our most pressing concern surrounds more than just the identification of underlying and undiagnosed sleep apnea and its successful treatment. We need to prevent sleep apnea, or find a solution that cures it.
Right now, a person who is diagnosed with sleep apnea is expected to treat their condition for the rest of their life. For this reason, sleep apnea belongs to a category of healthcare concerns known as chronic illness.
Chronic illness is a condition (like diabetes or asthma or multiple sclerosis) which has no cure and which must be treated for the lifetime of the person who has it.
Let’s find a cure for sleep apnea
The ASAA would like to make sleep apnea curable. Here are a few reasons why:
It might be cured if captured early on in a person’s life
Children born with certain cranial phenotypes or crowded spaces in their airways often snore or are sleepy during the day. Only recently have pediatricians started to look more closely at sleep apnea as a hidden problem. Prior to this, sleep apnea was considered only a problem for older people, but we know now that is absolutely not the case.
Many children in the last couple of decades have also been misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD because the symptoms of this behavioral disorder closely mimic the symptoms of untreated sleep apnea in children.
In addition, the rise of childhood obesity has made it more likely for children to develop sleep apnea. If caught early, there are some things that might be done to help cure it, such as oral surgery (commonly, the removal of the adenoids or tonsils is a part of that procedure, leading to a less crowded airway into adulthood).
What if there were other, better ways to do this that are less invasive? More research focused on better ways to identify, and then cure, this condition while in childhood could be a preventive medicine model that shapes better healthcare outcomes overall.
Public health and safety demand a cure for sleep apnea
Unidentified, undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea is a huge public health and safety problem. Untreated sleep apnea is a leading cause of:
- operator fatigue in transportation, no matter what kind of vehicle you operate (train, truck, bus, plane, ship, taxi)
- insulin resistance, hypertension, mood disorders, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and other chronic comorbid conditions
People with untreated sleep apnea make more mistakes on the job, struggle with cognitive problems and memory lapses, and are more likely to engage in high-risk behavior or make poor decisions due to the sleep deprivation and excessive daytime sleepiness, which are hallmarks of the condition.
Treatments for sleep apnea are expensive or inaccessible for many
Treatment is not the same as a cure. A cure means the condition is eliminated entirely and requires no further treatment. The reality is that those with sleep apnea have only two options: maintain treatment or ignore it. Ignoring sleep apnea is not only ill-advised, but a guarantee that you will develop other even more dangerous chronic illnesses as a result.
Currently, people with sleep apnea have the following options for treatment, all of which cost money, require an investment of personal time and energy, and need maintenance and compliance to work.
- PAP (positive airway pressure) is the gold standard and involves using a machine which sends pressurized air to the upper airway via a mask. It includes a variety of forms of noninvasive ventilation (CPAP, BiPAP, AutoPAP, and ASV). This is an effective treatment but some people are not comfortable using it.
- Oral appliances (mandibular advancement devices) are a useful option for certain sleep apnea patients but they may or may not be covered by insurance, are expensive, and can lead to problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) or repositioning of teeth in the mouth.
- Minor procedures include palatal implants, balloon sinuplasty, and other procedures that can be done in the doctor’s office and are considered minimally invasive. These procedures may not be an appropriate treatment for some.
- Major surgery includes uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), tracheostomy, radiofrequency volumetric tissue reduction (usually of the tongue), and other invasive procedures. The success rate of most of these is around 25 to 30 percent (with tracheostomy, the removal of the windpipe, the only one that guarantees a 100 percent cure). Surgery, for many reasons, may not be an appropriate treatment for some.
- Neurostimulation implants are a new therapy shown to be effective in some patients but they require a surgical implantation procedure and may not be an appropriate treatment for some.
- Physical therapy includes breathing practices, tongue exercises, positional therapy, even use of a digeridoo or other musical instrument to improve the tone of the upper airway muscles. However, there’s limited research showing these to be effective treatments for sleep apnea, especially in severe cases.
- Complementary approaches such as acupuncture or chiropracty may help some people but the jury is still out as to whether these are an overall effective treatment for sleep apnea.
- Weight loss could help reduce AHI (apnea-hypopnea index, the measure of sleep apnea severity) in obese patients, and for patients who are slightly overweight, weight loss could reduce AHI to the point that they no longer need treatment. For this reason, weight loss is probably the best path toward a cure for sleep apnea. But weight loss can be extremely difficult and cannot, on its own, treat sleep apnea. It is, however, typically encouraged for patients who are newly diagnosed and using PAP therapy.
If we could cure sleep apnea, even prevent it,
wouldn’t that be a win for everyone?
Sleep apnea in clinical research
Efforts to research sleep apnea are ongoing at every level. The challenges include developmental better diagnostic strategies, improving the identification of biomarkers showing higher risk for sleep apnea, and much more research on pediatric sleep apnea to understand why it happens and how we can catch it early and reverse the processes that turn it into a chronic condition.
Check out these research studies and articles to learn more about research into a cure:
- New Challenges for Sleep Apnea Research: Simple Diagnostic Tools, Biomarkers, New Treatments and Precision Medicine (Sleep Science, 3.24.2017)
- Weight loss, breathing devices still best for treating obstructive sleep apnea (Harvard Health Blog, 10.29.2015)