An epidemic of sleep apnea

Friday, April 15, 2011 by: Dr. Carolyn Dean
Tags: sleep apnea, epidemic, health news

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(NaturalNews) Why didn't I learn about sleep apnea in medical school? It's because it hadn't even been described until 1965. It still hadn't made its way into my course curriculum by the mid-1970s when I was in medical school. Now sleep apnea is so common that a New York travel agent tried to argue that sleep apnea was the reason she stole $25 million from her clients.

The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, which describes individuals with severe hypoxemia (lack of oxygen) and hypercapnia (increased carbon dioxide). Central sleep apnea is rare where brain damage stops the signals to the lungs that initiate breathing.

Initially tracheostomy - cutting a hole in the neck to insert a breathing tube - was the recommended treatment. It could save lives but had many side effects including fatal infections.

The treatment of obstructive sleep apnea became far less dangerous with the invention of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines by Colin Sullivan in Sydney, Australia in 1981. By the late 1980s CPAP was widely adopted. The technology has improved greatly over time with sleep clinics on every block touting the new treatment.

So what causes sleep apnea? The upper throat muscles help keep our airway open allowing air to flow into the lungs. And even though these muscles usually relax during sleep, the upper throat remains open enough to let air pass. But medical researchers tell us that some people actually have narrow throats that may completely close when their upper throat muscles relax during sleep. This prevents air from getting into their lungs.

When I read about collapsible throats I found it incredible that doctors believe that the human body was created with such a serious design flaw that makes it impossible for us to breathe properly at night. I don't think we were created that way but maybe it's the way we've molded new bodies with an imperfect diet and imperfect nutrients.

The major symptoms of sleep apnea are loud snoring, 10-second (or longer) breathing gaps and labored breathing. The gaps turn to gasps as if you are holding your breath. The gasping can wake you up, interrupting and fragmenting your sleep. People can have breathing pauses from 10-30 times per hour. Other symptoms are associated with severe daytime sleepiness. They include:

1. Awakening unrefreshed in the morning
2. Falling asleep at inappropriate times
3. Possible depression
4. Memory problems
5. Headaches
6. Personality changes
7. Poor concentration
8. Restless sleep
9. Insomnia
10. Hyperactivity

Obesity seems to be a major contributor to sleep apnea. But you don't have to be obese to have this condition. Please know that I'm not minimizing or trivializing this disease. It's a horrific feeling to wake up choking and gasping. However, if obesity is the major contributor to sleep apnea, what is being done about that? With 66 percent of the population overweight and obese I don't believe there are enough attempts by doctors to reduce the obesity factor with diet and lifestyle intervention. And, of course, obesity doesn't only cause sleep apnea but it's a major contributor to diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

Sleep clinics promote CPAP machines and surgeons promote throat and palate surgery. I've yet to hear a client with sleep apnea tell me that weight control was the first line of treatment. Often surgery is offered first with no mention of diet.

How many people suffer from sleep apnea? According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 18 million people have this condition and probably a similar number go undiagnosed. It's under-diagnosed because a doctor can't detect it on a routine examination and there are no blood tests for sleep apnea.

If you have all or some of the following symptoms, you could be experiencing sleep apnea. However, it really struck me that many of these symptoms can be related to stress and overwork and lack of magnesium!

1. Taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at night.
2. Waking at night and having trouble falling back to sleep.
3. Feeling sleepy during the day and taking short cat naps.
4. Tingling in your legs when you try to fall asleep.
5. Having vivid, dreamlike experiences while falling asleep or dozing.
6. Episodes of sudden muscle weakness when you're angry, fearful, laughing.
7. Feeling as though you can't move when you first wake up.
8. Your legs or arms jerk often during sleep.
9. Needing stimulants, such as caffeine, to stay awake during the day.

When I look at the following list of conditions that can be promoted by untreated sleep apnea, I also think of magnesium deficiency...except maybe for MVAs.

With untreated sleep apnea there is and increased risk of:

1. High blood pressure
2. Heart attack
3. Stroke
4. Obesity
5. Diabetes
6. Worsening heart failure
7. Worsening arrhythmias
8. Work-related accidents
9. MVAs


1. Lose Weight
When you are lying down, excess flesh and fat around your neck can put undue pressure on your airway. Abdominal weight can also push on your stomach affecting your breathing and also cause heartburn and reflux. Losing weight is much easier when you join a weight loss program like Weight Watchers or my Future Health Now! Online Wellness Program.

2. Exercise
Aim for a strong healthy body turning fat cells into muscle cells and conditioning your body so it has optimal levels of oxygen.

3. Change Your Sleep Position
Doctors say that sleeping on your back may allow your tongue to fall back into your airway and cause an obstruction. Again, I think that's a pretty significant design flaw in the body. You would have to be very out of condition for that to happen. Personally, I think some people use way too many pillows under their head at night. This can scrunch your neck up so it almost touches your chest - providing a serious airway challenge.

Try lying on your side. Hug one pillow and put another flat pillow between your knees. To stop yourself from rolling onto your back you can cut a tennis ball in half and sew each half into your pajama top - put one near your neck and one in the middle of your back.

4. Inclined Bed Therapy
Propping your upper body up with pillows might work but if you slide down during the night you could further twist your neck and compromise your breathing. I have a module about Inclined Bed Therapy in Future Health Now! If you're not a member you can go to to find out more about sleeping with the head of your bed raised 6 to 8 inches.

5. Limit Drugs
You may not be aware that medications prescribed for headaches, anxiety, and other common problems can affect sleep and quality of breathing.

6. Limit Alcohol
Alcohol slows down your brain's respiratory drive during sleep causing further relaxation of your throat muscles, which increases obstructive sleep apnea. Eliminating alcohol dramatically reduces the number of sleep apnea episodes, increases the oxygen saturation levels of the blood, and leads to deeper, more restful sleep. Avoid alcohol within four hours of bedtime if your suffer from sleep apnea.

7. Avoid Sleeping Pills
Sleeping pills depress breathing, relax the muscles of the throat, and generally make sleep apnea worse.

8. Learn How To Breathe
There are several yoga breathing techniques that can be used to improve your breathing. Practicing them may give you temporary relief from obstructive sleep apnea. You can learn more about them at infocenter on Pranayama.

9. Stay Calm
People panic when they wake up unable to breathe. It's instinctual to try and force a deep breath. However, this only worsens the problem and the fear. Instead, sit up straight or stand up and forcibly blow out your breath, then breathe in very slowly.

10. Take Magnesium
If, as medical researchers say, sleep apnea occurs when the upper throat muscles relax during sleep, I'd say you definitely need magnesium. Magnesium is necessary in any muscle problem because magnesium regulates the way muscles function. I would love to see people with sleep apnea treated with magnesium before having to resort to bulky breathing machines or surgery. The recommended dosage of magnesium citrate powder is 300 mg twice daily.

11. Take 5-HTP
Scientists recommend serotonin precursors such as 5-HTP for people suffering from sleep apnea. Decreased serotonin levels can lead to sleep apnea. The nerves that control breathing require an adequate supply of serotonin. Incidentally, serotonin production depends on magnesium. The recommended dosage is 100 to 300 mg of 5-HTP at bedtime.

12. Join Future Health Now!. It's my two-year Online Wellness Program. Staying healthy is the best defense against all the lifestyle diseases.

About the author:
About the author:
Dr. Carolyn Dean is The Doctor of the Future. She is a medical doctor and naturopathic doctor in the forefront of the natural medicine revolution since 1979.

She has two published patents on novel health products such as RnA Drops, ReMag, ReLyte, ReNew and ReAline at

Dr. Dean is the author/coauthor of over 30 health books (print and eBooks) including The Magnesium Miracle, Death by Modern Medicine, IBS for Dummies, IBS Cookbook for Dummies, The Yeast Connection and Women's Health, Future Health Now Encyclopedia, Death by Modern Medicine, Everything Alzheimers, and Hormone Balance.

She is on the Medical Advisory Board of the non-profit educational site - Nutritional Magnesium Association ( Her magnesium recommendations can be found under Resources on her website.

Dr. Dean has a free online newsletter and a valuable online 2-year wellness program called Completement Now! at She also runs a busy telephone consulting practice. Find out more at,, and

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