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Unlocking the Secrets of Sleep Apnea: A Holistic Approach to Restful Sleep

functional medicine information Jun 04, 2024

By Jennifer Engels, MD

Sleep apnea is a common yet often undiagnosed sleep disorder affecting millions worldwide. Characterized by interruptions in breathing during sleep, sleep apnea can have serious consequences for your overall health and well-being if left untreated. 

In the U.S., 18 million people have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, but it is estimated that up to 4% of our population suffers from an undiagnosed case of the disorder. 

In this article, I'll delve into the various types of sleep apnea, explore its risk factors and common symptoms, discuss its impact on health, examine conventional treatment options, and introduce a holistic approach through functional medicine.

Understanding Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder marked by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), where the muscles in the throat relax excessively, leading to airway blockage. Central sleep apnea (CSA) is less common and occurs when the brain fails to send the proper signals to the muscles responsible for controlling breathing. Mixed sleep apnea combines elements of both OSA and CSA.

Identifying the Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea 

Several factors can increase the risk of developing sleep apnea including:

  • A family history of the disorder
  • Gender - Men are 2-3 times more likely than women to have sleep apnea, but being overweight or having gone through menopause increases the risk for women. 
  • Obesity
  • Age - Middle-aged and older adults are more susceptible. 
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption 
  • Nasal congestion
  • Certain medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes

Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apnea can sometimes overlap, making it difficult to determine which type you have. However, the most common symptoms of the two include: 

  • Loud snoring (But you can have sleep apnea without snoring)
  • Gasping for air while sleeping
  • Episodes when you stop breathing, observed by someone else
  • Waking with a dry mouth
  • Feeling tired or exhausted when waking 
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Irritability 

Threats to Your Overall Health

Sleep apnea is more than just a nuisance during the night; it can have far-reaching consequences for your health. Untreated sleep apnea has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, and cognitive impairment. It can also exacerbate existing conditions and negatively impact your quality of life.

Conventional Treatment Options

Traditional treatments for sleep apnea often involve continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, other oral appliances, nasal sprays, adhesive strips, changes in medication, or surgery in severe cases. While these methods can sometimes be effective, they may not address the underlying causes of the disorder and can be cumbersome or uncomfortable for some individuals.

A Holistic, Personalized Approach with Functional Medicine

Functional medicine takes a comprehensive approach to health, focusing on identifying and addressing the root causes of disease rather than just managing symptoms. When it comes to sleep apnea, this means looking beyond the surface and considering factors such as hormonal imbalances, inflammation, and lifestyle habits.

Like other physicians practicing Functional Medicine, if you seek treatment at WeCare Frisco I may recommend specialized testing to assess hormone levels, particularly cortisol and thyroid hormones, which play a crucial role in regulating sleep patterns. Dietary modifications, such as reducing sugar and processed foods and incorporating anti-inflammatory foods, can also support better sleep.

Additionally, lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, stress management techniques, and improving sleep hygiene can complement other treatment strategies and promote restful sleep.

Take the First Step Towards Better Sleep

If you're struggling with sleep apnea or are wondering if you might have sleep apnea, we invite you to contact WeCare Frisco at 972-668-2636 to schedule a free discovery call. New patients are always welcome, and together we can create a personalized plan to address your unique needs and help you achieve the restorative sleep you deserve.

Don't let sleep apnea hold you back any longer. Take control of your health and embark on a journey towards better sleep and lifelong wellness.


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A new focus, a new path forward

“I was absolutely fascinated,” Engels says, “by this new style of medicine that saw the patient as a whole biological system rather focusing on only one organ system at a time, such as Cardiology. This was a complete paradigm shift from conventional medicine and how I was trained.”