Sleep Apnea and Snoring During Pregnancy – Should I Be Concerned?
A pregnancy, especially if it’s your first-ever, can be quite an exciting feeling and induces the classic discussions revolving around food cravings, morning sickness, and that “special glow.”
However, few give a thought to how the quality of sleep might change with the bodily and hormonal changes that pregnancy brings with it. A sleep poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation revealed that 78% of women experience a worsening quality of sleep during pregnancy. Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation are largely thought to be something that women experience after their little one comes into the world. Little do they know that they will most likely experience those sleepless nights a lot sooner than they thought.
Sleep-related breathing disorders will arise as you experience the hormonal changes and the subsequent physiological changes that accompany your pregnancy. If overlooked, they may cause health issues for both the baby and the mother.
The Importance of Sleeping for Two
Getting an adequate amount of quality sleep is an unavoidable need for a human body; and for two, even more. When you are going through the different phases of pregnancy, it is even more important for you to get the required amounts of quality sleep as your body is working overtime to sustain two lives now instead of one.
Normally, you’d require 8 hours of quality sleep at night, but when you’re pregnant, you should try and squeeze in a few more hours of naps into your day. The majority of new mothers cannot get adequate sleep after they’ve gone through the process of labor and delivery. It is important you prioritize sleep and accustom your body to take naps throughout the day by then. Therefore, identifying any sleeping disorders early on in your pregnancy will benefit you as well as your child.
Below are a few ways by which you can ensure that you get enough sleep during your pregnancy:
- Nap whenever it is practical throughout the day
- Try and sleep on your left side; this will enhance the blood circulation and keep the air passageway open.
- Use a saline nasal spray for congestion
- Perform 30 minutes of physician-approved exercise daily
- Eat a balanced diet to boost your metabolism
- Install a bedside humidifier in your room to avoid sinus problems
- Identify and treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
There is a likelihood that the quality of your sleep may deteriorate over the course of your pregnancy due to OSA. What may seem like an intensified form of snoring initially, can play a large role in deteriorating the quality of your sleep, and in turn, affect your overall health and that of your baby.
OSA during pregnancy can be identified through various symptoms across each passing trimester. It is essential that you regularly consult your healthcare provider who can thoroughly screen you for any breathing-related issues throughout your pregnancy. Screening done during the second trimester is the most effective in pointing out any sleep breathing issues.
Therefore, do not be hesitant in consulting your doctor about loud snoring, bedtime stuffiness, gasping, sore throats, morning headaches, or feelings of choking at night.
OSA can be effectively and conveniently cured through a procedure called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. But for that, you must consult the doctor as soon as you notice that something is wrong. Before we go into more detail about sleep apnea during pregnancy and how to identify the symptoms, let’s first look at what it is exactly.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is classified as a sleeping disorder whereby the airway collapses while you sleep. The result is the obstruction of the air passageway, which leads to episodes of involuntary breathlessness. These breathing pauses, called apneas, may last anywhere from a few moments to a minute or even more. People suffering from mild sleep apnea usually experience about five to 14 breathing suspensions per hour, those with a moderate case of apnea will have about 15 to 29, and those with a severe case of sleep apnea can suffer over 30 incidents an hour.
Apnea often gets confused for harmless snoring. A pattern of heavy snoring almost always accompanies apnea; the snoring gets louder than usual just before it dies down completely as the airflow is impeded. Your body reacts to the momentary lack of breathing within a few seconds with loud gasp or snort, and the snoring resumes. In most cases, people experiencing these episodes of OSA do not wake up or even remember it the next morning. However, the quality of their sleep does suffer greatly. If you’re interested in natural ways to cure this condition, here is a useful guide.
Who Is at Risk of Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
You are exposed to a substantially higher risk of sleep apnea if you’re obese or overweight. And if you happen to put on excessive weight during the pregnancy phase, you’re exposed to an even higher risk of suffering from OSA. This is due to the fact that all the weight that sits around the neck in the form of fat can cause an obstruction of the air passageway when you sleep at night.
Other reasons could be allergies or respiratory infections that may cause you to experience obstructive sleep apnea during your pregnancy and hurt the quality of your sleep.
How Pregnancy Itself Can Lead to Sleep Breathing Disorders
You don’t necessarily have to be one of those who are exposed to a high risk of OSA. Most women start off perfectly healthy, but they may still experience snoring, congestion and episodes of sleep apnea over the course of their pregnancy. Why?
A study conducted in 2017 on 3,000 pregnant women revealed that 8.3 percent of them developed symptoms of sleep apnea around mid-pregnancy. Besides, higher estrogen levels during pregnancy often increase your body’s fluid retention.
It can cause the nasal mucous membrane to swell up, which leads to nasal congestion. This fluid retention is due to the increase in the volume of blood during pregnancy, which, on its own, can cause congestion.
Then there are the hormonal changes and the subsequent alterations in the muscle mass of your body that can lead to snoring. Snoring and general airway obstruction can quickly turn into OSA for most women.
What Should I Look for?
You won’t even realize that you’re not breathing for a few seconds or more while you sleep because sleep apnea will almost never wake you up. Also, it is highly unlikely that you will even remember the episodes of sleep apnea from the night before the next day either. Your partner, however, is most likely to first identify the loud snoring and the changes in your sleeping. You may find yourself falling asleep often throughout the day while you’re watching TV, reading, working at the computer, or doing most other daily chores.
You may also feel fatigued, forgetful and irritable more often and may also often wake up with a headache in the morning. Let’s look at some of the other classical symptoms that you might experience due to sleep apnea during pregnancy.
- Experiencing shortness of breath or breathing pauses while sleeping
- Loud snoring while sleeping
- Excessive daytime sleepiness or episodes of microsleep
- Waking up choking or gasping for breath
- The need to urinate frequently throughout the night (nocturia)
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms or your partner points out your unusually loud snoring, it is your cue to seek a thorough evaluation from a sleep specialist. If you happen to be one of the high-risk women with gestational diabetes, obesity, or intrauterine growth retardation, you should seek medical care right away. Your doctor may conduct an overnight sleep evaluation polysomnogram. Here are some more signs of sleep apnea that you shouldn’t ignore.
What Are the Risks of Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy?
Sleep apnea during pregnancy can be detrimental to your baby’s health as well as your own. Often, sleep apnea takes a considerable toll on your body before you finally identify it and seek medical care. With sleep apnea, your body is being deprived of the adequate amount of oxygen that it would’ve been receiving otherwise – this happens every night. Your blood oxygen levels drop over time, shooting up your chances of high blood pressure, stroke, a heart attack, depression, or excessive weight gain.
You are also more likely to develop preeclampsia and gestational diabetes – conditions that may interfere with the development of the fetus. Moreover, studies reveal that pregnant women with apnea are more likely to have a cesarean delivery, and the newborn child will most likely require neonatal intensive care afterward. Let’s look at the risks associated with apnea in more detail below.
Statistics produced by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reveal that over 50% of the women who are pregnant tend to be overweight or obese. They carry a higher risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and having babies with birth defects. Obesity exposes both mother and child to a higher risk of insulin resistance and hypertension. They are more likely to have a cesarean section delivery and postpartum infection.
Heart Problems for the Child
Pregnant women suffering from gestational diabetes and sleep apnea run the risk of giving birth to babies who may have congenital heart defects.
Pulmonary Hypertension and Preeclampsia
As sleep apnea deprives you of the required amounts of oxygen in your blood, it can lead to dangerously high levels of blood pressure, which, in turn, may result in a rare condition known as preeclampsia. Statistics show that 42% of women with OSA suffer from this pregnancy-related condition as compared to 17% of women without OSA.
Risks to the Unborn Child
Due to oxygen deprivation in the womb of the mother suffering from OSA, the newborn child may also be exposed to a higher chance of developing a condition called Metabolic Syndrome. This will cause the child to face complications such as obesity, diabetes, and weight issues in the future.
How Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treated?
There are a number of things that you can do to treat the issue of sleep apnea. Lifestyle changes are usually where you can start. The doctor may suggest not sleeping on your back, or sleeping on the left side to improve circulation during the sleep. A trick that medical practitioners often suggest is to tie a tennis ball to your back so that whenever you sleep on it, you’re instantly reminded to change your side.
Managing a healthy weight plays a major role in avoiding sleep apnea during pregnancy. Try managing your weight at a healthy limit. Your health care provider will help you draft a weight management plan.
You can try breathing strips to ensure proper breathing throughout the night. They’ll help to open up your nostrils and undo the effects of the restrictions caused by congestion. Other things that you can try in this regard may include a saline nasal spray or installing a humidifier to manage your sinus problems and keep other respiratory allergies at bay.
Persistent apnea would require CPAC therapy. A mask is put around your nose, and a constant, gentle airflow is provided to ensure that you get the required amount of oxygen.
The Bottom Line
All in all, sleep apnea and snoring during pregnancy can be cured and managed. As to the question of whether or not you should be concerned about these issues, the answer is an explicit “yes.”
Yes, you should be concerned to the point that you don’t overlook the symptoms of apnea during your pregnancy.
Consult your doctor as soon as your partner points out your loud snoring, or better yet, visit the doctor for a sleep evaluation as soon as you find out about your pregnancy. Quality sleep is indispensable for you and your baby’s health during pregnancy, so do give it due importance. If you’re interested in finding out about a diet that may help you or your partner get rid of their loud snoring, here’s a useful article.
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