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Sweet Dreams Deferred: Understandting Sleep Apnea

Submitted by: Corey Vanderwouw, MPT

Imagine trying to get a good night’s sleep and having your breathing stop and start over and over again... What should be the most the restful part of the day can result in waking up short of breath, with dry mouth, a sore throat, and a morning headache. There may be loud snoring or choking during sleep. The quality of sleep is also affected, and can lead to excessive daytime tiredness, high blood pressure, nighttime sweating, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and just plain not feeling good.


When a person with sleep apnea sleeps, their breathing pauses over and over, lasting for a few seconds up to a few minutes. The flow of air temporarily stops, which also limits new oxygen into the body and brain. It is therefore considered to be a serious medical condition.


It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and many people continually suffer from symptoms without getting help. Sleep apnea can occur in children and women, but is most common in men. Other risk factors that increase the likelihood of having sleep apnea include having excess body weight, being over 40 years of age, having a large neck size, gastroesophageal reflux, allergies, sinus problems, diabetes, and asthma.

Sleep apnea is diagnosed through a doctor, commonly by doing a sleep study. More than five pauses in breathing per hour lead to the diagnosis. Once diagnosed, there are multiple treatments available that can help improve the quality of sleep and breathing continuously throughout the night. A common treatment is the use of a sleeping mask during the night.


The most common type of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). It is estimated that 80% of people with sleep apnea are underdiagnosed. In OSA, the pauses of breathing are commonly followed by loud snoring. There may also be a choking or snorting sound as breathing resumes. Interestingly, many cases of obstructive sleep apnea area caused by weak throat and tongue muscles that cause the soft tissues of the throat to collapse and obstruct your airway during certain sleep positions.

Steve Crandall, a physical therapist and movement and strength expert, became interested in sleep apnea when he was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2007. He has spent the last eleven years attempting to improve his symptoms through weight loss and strengthening. He is able to apply his knowledge to patients who he teaches specific exercises that strengthen the muscles of the throat and tongue. Over time, the muscles can become stronger, which allow people to breath better at night. This type of work can be very empowering to people with sleep apnea and may even allow some people, over time, to shed their sleep mask and sleep without difficulty.


Many Americans are living with sleep apnea without realizing the effects it can have on their bodies. Steve is offering a community workshop for people who want to learn more about what sleep apnea is, how it affects people and what they can do about it. Move better, Live better.

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