Like a thief in the night, sleep apnea has a way of robbing people without them realizing it. All you know is that you’re tired and cranky during the daytime, even though it seems like you had a full night’s sleep.
Fortunately, awareness of the condition has increased dramatically in the last few decades. Along with that has come increased interest in alternative treatments to the cumbersome medical devices that currently form the treatment standard. And inevitably, that interest includes the hottest new item in wellness: CBD.
There’s already such a thing as CBD oil for sleep, to help people maintain their regular sleep cycles. But what about sleep apnea and CBD oil? Could that be the combo of your dreams?
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Before we plunge into the subject of CBD and sleep apnea, let’s look at the science on the ailment.
Sleep apnea is a condition where you don’t breathe properly when you sleep. There may be periods of shallow breathing or several-second pauses where you don’t breathe at all. These disruptions often happen between stretches of snoring and snorting, so if you’re a big snorer, your chances of having the disease are much higher.
Once your body realizes it’s not getting enough oxygen, you wake up a little – not enough to remember, but enough to clear your throat and start breathing again. This reaction means that even if you sleep seven or eight hours a night, you don’t sleep soundly, meaning you can still suffer the symptoms of sleep deprivation.
Medical science recognizes three kinds of sleep apnea.
- Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the soft tissue of the throat collapses and obstructs the airway during sleep. This type is, by far, the most common.
- Central sleep apnea is a result of the brain failing to signal to the lungs that it’s time to breathe.
- A combination of the two is called complex sleep apnea syndrome.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
The cause of sleep apnea depends on the type.
Obstructive sleep apnea comes from a narrowed airway to the lungs, which can come from a variety of things. Some people are born with this due to having big necks, large tonsils, or unusually shaped jaws. People susceptible to nasal congestion and allergies are also more likely to get it.
Behavior can also play a role. Being overweight can cause a thickening of the neck and create similar problems. Smoking narrows the air passages as well. And the use of alcohol and sedatives before bed causes the throat muscles to relax and potentially collapse.
Central sleep apnea doesn’t always have a clear cause, but most often, it appears in people who’ve had a stroke or heart failure. Using opioid drugs also raises the risk of central sleep apnea, as does living at a high altitude with thin air.
Who Gets Sleep Apnea?
An estimated 22 million Americans have sleep apnea, but it’s difficult to know the precise number because many sufferers don’t realize they have it. Any person can get it, but it’s most likely if you:
- Are male
- Are overweight
- Are over age 40
- Have a large neck, tonsils, or tongue
- Have relatives with sleep apnea
- Have allergies or sinus problems
- Drink, smoke, or use sedative drugs
- Live at a high altitude
How Do I Know If I Have Sleep Apnea?
You need a doctor’s diagnosis to know for sure, but there are some definite warning signs of sleep apnea.
If you have a bed partner, they may notice you sleeping restlessly and snorting or snoring – even though central sleep apnea usually doesn’t induce snoring. You might also wake up at night feeling short of breath or find yourself with a headache in the morning due to oxygen deprivation. Waking up with a sore or dry throat is also a common symptom.
Mostly, though, the symptoms of sleep apnea are from not getting enough sleep: fatigue, moodiness, and lack of energy. If you think you’re sleeping a good six to eight hours a night, but you still feel this way, it’s worth investigating.
The Dangers of Poor Sleep
The trouble with sleep apnea isn’t just that you might not be getting the total amount of sleep you need. It’s that healthy sleep involves a series of cycles, roughly 90 minutes in length, that include moving from light to deep sleep, which is when you dream, and back again. When breathing problems disrupt those healthy cycles, all sorts of bad consequences happen.
Some of those consequences are obvious: you’re low on energy and not thinking clearly, which can make you moody and less productive and, more seriously, increases the risk of car crashes and other dangerous accidents.
However, some effects of inadequate sleep are more insidious. Research has linked several chronic diseases to it:
- Cardiovascular disease: sleep apnea heightens the risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, and arrhythmias.
- Diabetes: getting good sleep seems to help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar, while lack of sleep worsens symptoms.
- Obesity: lack of sleep leads to metabolic changes that encourage obesity, especially in children. Many people find it easier to control food cravings when they’ve had enough sleep.
- Liver disease: people with sleep apnea are more likely to have problems with liver function and show signs of scarring.
Sleep apnea can be bad for your mental health as well. A 2012 study of sleep-apnea patients found that more than half of them suffered from depression and anxiety.
But does that mean that the apnea caused the depression and anxiety, or is it the other way around? Or some of both? That isn’t so clear, but sleep apnea puts you under some stress, what with the repeated oxygen deprivation setting off your body’s alarms and partially waking you up.
It’s also true that, in that state between awake and asleep, some bizarre things can happen.
Many people in that state experience sleep paralysis, in which they’re aware that they’re lying in their beds, but they can’t move. Often this goes along with frightening hallucinations that seem much more real than normal dreams: people think they’re being dragged out of bed or flying through the air and sometimes receiving creepy visitors.
Sometimes their paralysis seems to be caused by someone pinning them down. In the old days, people thought these were demons; nowadays, sleep paralysis is a suspected cause of alien-abduction stories.
On top of that, many substances that people use to soothe their anxieties can make sleep apnea worse. As noted earlier, alcohol and sedatives both depress the central nervous system, which can induce or exacerbate obstructive sleep apnea by relaxing the throat to the point where it collapses. So what’s a nervous sleep apnea sufferer to do?
That’s where CBD comes in.
CBD Oil and Sleep Apnea – What’s the Connection?
There’s no research on CBD and sleep apnea directly, but there has been a fair bit of study on CBD in connection with anxiety. Like other compounds within the cannabis plant, it interacts with the endocannabinoid system, a sort of communication network within your nervous system.
The endocannabinoid system regulates many functions of the body and mind, including mood. People have been using whole cannabis to mellow out for thousands of years, and modern research indicates its effect on the endocannabinoid system may be the reason.
CBD by itself is still not an approved treatment for any mood disorder, but early studies suggest that it can help people manage stressful situations, such as public speaking. Plus, it has several advantages over whole cannabis.
For one, it does not include THC, the cannabinoid responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana. In fact, to be federally legal in the United States, CBD must come from hemp, a breed of cannabis with little or no THC. Hemp-derived CBD is therefore much more widely available than marijuana, whose legality depends on where you live.
But from the standpoint of CBD and sleep apnea, the most important advantage is that it doesn’t depress the central nervous system. Studies have not shown any form of impaired functioning resulting from people taking CBD alone. Therefore, combining sleep apnea and CBD oil probably won’t produce the vicious circle that alcohol and sedatives often do.
Another sleep aid that doesn’t depress the central nervous system is melatonin. This compound is a hormone that your body naturally produces to regulate your regular daily sleep/wake cycles. Since the 1990s, it’s become a popular over-the-counter supplement used for jet lag and occasional insomnia.
Naturally, CBD oil and melatonin are now available to help people sleep without the dangers of sedatives.
CBD and Sleep Apnea Options
While anxiety is only a side component of sleep apnea for many people, addressing it can also help make the lifestyle changes necessary to combat the disease. Among them:
- Cut back drinking and smoking
The problems with alcohol I discussed earlier, but smoking can also contribute to apnea by narrowing your airways.
- Lose weight if you need to
Excess flesh around the neck can weigh down your air passages and have the same effect as booze. But overeating can also be a vicious cycle since research indicates that people crave food, especially carbs when they’re short of sleep. There is, unfortunately, still no magic pill for weight loss, but regulating mood may help combat stress eating.
Even if you don’t need to lose weight, this can help ease symptoms and give you more energy.
- Establish good sleep habits
Try to establish good sleep habits that will help you slumber undisturbed. Keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool can help stimulate your body’s natural melatonin. Allow your living space to get darker as you near bedtime can also help.
- Sleep on your side rather than your back
If you have trouble training yourself to do that, there are devices available that will vibrate if you roll onto your back during sleep. Or you can go the low-tech route and attach a tennis ball to the back of your pajama top.
If those changes don’t do the trick, physicians can offer more aggressive interventions. Some types of oral appliances help keep your throat open as you sleep, and more elaborate machines can regulate breathing to keep it continuous.
Some types of surgeries can treat obstructive sleep apnea by removing the excess tissue from the throat, repositioning the jaw, or even creating a new opening for breathing with a tracheostomy. For central sleep apnea, certain drugs can stimulate breathing to make up for the malfunction in the brain.
Generally speaking, though, the less invasive the treatment is, the better. Central sleep apnea can also emerge from attempts to treat obstructive sleep apnea with breathing machines, creating complex sleep apnea syndrome.
CBD Oil and Sleep Apnea: Conclusions
If you have sleep apnea or think you do, consult your physician to work out the best approach to treating it. CBD oil – with or without melatonin – can be a supplement to that routine, helping maintain sleep cycles and manage your mood without the side effects of popular “helpers” like drugs and alcohol.
Do tell your doctor if you’re thinking about taking CBD. While CBD generally has a good safety profile, it may interfere with the ways that the liver processes certain other medications, and your doctor should be able to tell you if you’re on one of those.
With CBD becoming increasingly popular, many physicians also have first-hand experience gained from their other patients and can advise you about what’s best for your situation. A proper regimen of lifestyle changes, supplements, and stronger interventions, if necessary, can give you the best night’s sleep you’ve had in years.
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