It is estimated that approximately 10% of pregnant women experience disrupted sleep due to sleep apnea. Women who suspect that they may suffer from sleep apnea while pregnant are at risk for a number of dangerous side effects that may be harmful to both the mother and the fetus. However, there are significant symptoms that are easy to identify as well as treatment options that can effectively eliminate the hazardous impacts of sleep apnea in pregnancy.
What is Sleep Apnea?
According to sleepapnea.org, the medical definition for sleep apnea is:
"...an involutionary cessation of breathing that occurs while the patient is asleep."
The common symptoms for sleep apnea are:
- Loud snoring
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Waking with a dry mouth
- Headaches in the morning
- Difficulty paying attention
More than 22 million Americans currently suffer with sleep apnea although 80% of moderate to severe sleep apnea cases remain undiagnosed. Certain individuals are more at risk for developing sleep apnea depending on certain lifestyle and genetic factors.
Risk Factors: Developing Sleep Apnea in Pregnancy
In pregnancy, there are certain risk factors that make some more prone to developing sleep apnea than others. Sleep apnea occurs more frequently in women who are:
- Born with an above-average neck size
- Experiencing excessive weight gain during pregnancy
- Experiencing nasal congestion due to high levels of progesterone
- Exposed to smoking
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Pregnancy
Many of the symptoms present in women who have sleep apnea are similar to others who are diagnosed with sleep apnea. These symptoms present as:
- Breathing pauses
- Shortness of breath in sleep
- Choking, snorting, or gasping while sleeping
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Frequent urination at night
How to Treat Sleep Apnea in Pregnancy
It's highly important to seek immediate treatment if you suspect that you may have sleep apnea while pregnant. Undiagnosed sleep apnea during pregnancy may lead to gestational hypertension, diabetes, and unplanned C-sections. Another negative side effect is fetal growth restriction and a prolonged labor.
Some things that pregnant women can do to help if they have sleep apnea is to sleep on their sides and follow the instructions of their sleep specialist if previously diagnosed. Oftentimes, this means using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. C-pap therapy, a machine used to send a constant flow of air pressure to the throat to ensure that the airway stays open during sleep, is the most common method to treat sleep apnea. It can greatly improve the uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous symptoms of sleep apnea.
In more severe cases, a patient may need bilevel therapy. Bilevel therapy allows the pressure settings used in CPAP treatments to be adjusted during pregnancy to allow for increased weight gain. Rarely, a surgical procedure called a tracheostomy is required.
Seeking Help from a Professional
If you are pregnant and suspect that you may have sleep apnea or have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and have discovered that you are pregnant, it is important that you contact a sleep professional. Sleep specialists can best assist you in assessing your individual case and prescribe a treatment plan suited to your specific needs.
At the Anchorage Sleep Center, we have board certified sleep specialists who offer sleep consultations. A sleep consultation will allow a sleep specialist to diagnose you with a possible sleep disorder so that an appropriate sleep solution.
If you are pregnant and suspect that you may have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, contact the Anchorage Sleep Center by sending a message online.