The importance of sleep is often underrated. People commonly trade hours of sleep to find out what will happen in the next episode of their latest Netflix binge or to have just one more drink with friends. For many, trading a few hours of sleep here and there isn’t a big deal, but for those with sleep apnea, it can mean more sleep deprivation for the brain and body. For those who have sleep apnea and are athletes, it can mean a dip in athletic performance.

Sleep Apnea’s Affect On Your Brain

healthy woman getting down with a workout Sleep apnea is a sleep condition where you experience pauses in breathing throughout the night. These pauses can last as little as 10 seconds or up to a minute and happen hundreds of times per night. When your brain detects excess carbon dioxide and too little oxygen, it wakes you up momentarily so you can resume breathing. You’ll notice some of these awakenings, and some you won’t because they are so brief. For those with Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the soft tissues in your throat sag during sleep and block or completely cut off your airway. For those with Central Sleep Apnea, your brain stops telling your lungs to breathe. In both cases, you’re never able to make it through a whole sleep cycle without waking up and having to start the sleep cycle over again from stage one. Not making it through the entire sleep cycle can damage your brain, and you’ll begin experiencing bothersome and dangerous symptoms. Read the common brain-related symptoms of sleep apnea below.

  • Memory loss
  • Impaired concentration
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stroke

During the last two stages of your sleep cycle, stage three and REM sleep, your brain is filing memories and restoring itself for the next day. When repeatedly not allowed to complete these vital functions, your symptoms will worsen.

Sleep Apnea’s Affect On Your Body

Sleep apnea affects your entire body; respiratory system, endocrine system, digestive system, circulatory and cardiovascular systems, nervous system, and even your reproductive system. If you aren’t sleeping, your chances for a more severe case of COVID-19 rises along with other respiratory conditions like COPD. Insulin resistance is more likely to develop with sleep apnea which could eventually lead to type two diabetes and many other problems. One of the issues with sleep apnea and diabetes is that they feed one another’s severity making management of each more difficult (But—this also means that effective treatment of one can help the other). Sleep apnea can worsen heartburn and other digestive conditions, raise blood pressure (increasing risk of heart disease and heart attack), cause numbness and tingling, reduce sex drive, and contribute to erectile dysfunction.

Silver Lining: There is a silver lining to all this. Treating sleep apnea can decrease your risk of dangerous diseases and remove those symptoms that disrupt your everyday life.

man running up stairs exercisingSleep Apnea & Athletic Performance

Sleep apnea has a remarkable effect on those who are athletes. Athletes with sleep apnea can experience longer reaction times, fatigue, loss of balance, and inadequate concentration. During a game, these consequences can mean a loss for the team or, if you participate in an individual sport, giving up a medal.

The problem for athletes is two-fold. The lack of sleep due to sleep apnea decreases your muscle’s ability to recover because you don’t spend long enough in the last two stages of your sleep cycle for your cells to finish recovery. You may wake up incredibly sore after a workout and unable to participate in practice the next day because of it. The repeated tearing of your muscles is supposed to build larger ones, but when you don’t give your body time to repair those cells, you won’t experience muscle gain, just soreness. This soreness can affect the next game or performance and won’t allow you to improve. Many sports also require concentration. Think of a tennis player, for instance. A tennis player needs to be able to access the speed at which the ball is coming and decide on a return speed, pitch, and placement in a matter of a second or two. How about a football player? Quarterbacks need to assess the field quickly to decide who to throw the ball to, where that person will be when the ball gets to them, how hard to throw it, how high to throw it, and keep track of the other team’s players. This kind of concentration is doomed when you have sleep apnea. Fatigue and your brain’s inability to recover from the day before will result in a loss of concentration and memory problems. What about athletes that need to have superior balance, like figure skaters or gymnasts? Balance requires a complex collaboration of different muscles, visuals, and cognitive functions. When you aren’t getting sleep, your athletic performance is sure to dip.

Silver Lining: With sleep treatment, you can regain your athletic ability and continue to hone your talent uninterrupted. For tips on how to sleep better in general, read 6 Tips For Better Sleep.

Your Next Steps

If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, your next step is to get a sleep test. Next, seek sleep apnea treatment. Sleep apnea is not a condition where you can grit your teeth and bear it until it passes. Your sleep apnea will continue, and your athletic performance will sink lower and lower until a doctor treats you. Sleep apnea treatment doesn’t have to be complicated or cumbersome if you have obstructive sleep apnea. With the help of sleep dentist Dr. Mandy Grimshaw in Aberdeen, NC, you can treat your sleep apnea with an oral appliance, a small, sleek mouthguard-like appliance that you wear when you sleep. Your oral appliance is made specifically for you and is positioned in a way that holds your airway open while you sleep. You can kiss your fatigue, loss of concentration, and loss of balance goodbye with sleep apnea treatment with Dr. Grimshaw.