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How Sleep Apnea and Adrenal Fatigue are Linked

Sleep apnea is one of the most under-recognized causes of poor sleep quality. It’s also linked to high blood pressure that’s difficult to get under control, kidney disease, and, believe it or not, adrenal stress. People with sleep apnea essentially aren’t getting the oxygen they need at night. They’re not only sleep-deprived but also oxygen-deprived.

Have you ever been told that you’re a loud snorer? Maybe your significant other noticed you had periods during the night where you seemed to stop breathing for a second or two. Or maybe you sleep for 8 hours, but you wake up feeling exhausted anyway. Maybe every morning when you wake, you have headaches (due to oxygen deprivation).

Or perhaps you fall asleep in the middle of the day. If any of these symptoms pertain to you, you may have sleep apnea. Be aware that although snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea, not everyone with sleep apnea snores loudly.

Here’s how one doctor explain this condition to patients: Picture someone partially strangling you every time you go to sleep. Deprived of oxygen, your body goes into a fight-or-flight reaction. Your heart, responding to the oxygen deprivation, works vigorously to pump blood (red blood cells carry oxygen to your body cells). Your lungs work harder as well.

Your adrenal glands are working overtime when you sleep, secreting high levels of the hormones epinephrine, aldosterone, and cortisol. To varying degrees, this happens each and every night you go to sleep if you have sleep apnea. You can see how sleep apnea can lead to adrenal fatigue. Many people with sleep apnea go undiagnosed for years.

If your healthcare provider suspects you have sleep apnea, he or she may order a sleep study, or polysomnography. This type of testing is performed on an outpatient basis, usually at a sleep center. The pattern of your sleeping is observed to see whether sleep apnea is present.

Sleep apnea is closely linked to obesity, so one of the main treatments for sleep apnea is weight loss. A more immediate treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which involves wearing a face mask that provides you with oxygen while you sleep.

For many, the mask can be difficult to tolerate. Refraining from alcohol is also important, because alcohol can worsen sleep apnea symptoms. The key is not to ignore symptoms of sleep apnea, because it can be a major source of undiagnosed fatigue.

Low testosterone can contribute to malaise and fatigue, especially in older men. Some evidence demonstrates that sleep apnea can lower testosterone levels. Correcting sleep apnea may help normalize testosterone levels so that replacement isn’t even necessary.

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