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Gastrointestinal Problems and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Posted On December 10, 2015
December 10, 2015

We all know how important it is to get a good night of sleep. Tossing and turning during the night can impact how we feel in terms of energy and mood the next morning or even the following day. Unfortunately, if you have a chronic condition, especially one that causes gastrointestinal distress, you may wake up frequently due to gas pain and bloating. What if to make matters worse throughout the night, you also have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and your breathing pauses anywhere from five to over 30 times an hour? Gastrointestinal problems and obstructive sleep apnea: a double whammy when it comes to getting sleep that restores your mind, body and soul.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Explained

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition in which people who are affected stop breathing throughout the course of a night’s sleep due to an obstruction. With no or little air freely flowing to the lungs, there is a decrease in oxygen levels in the blood.

An individual with sleep apnea can have any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fragmented sleep
  • Snoring

The Range of Gastrointestinal Problems

Unfortunately, 80 percent of people with sleep apnea are not properly diagnosed and therefore also not treated. When left untreated, the individual is at a higher risk for a host of other, often life-threatening, conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity. With the increasing incidence of inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease under this umbrella, gastrointestinal disease may also have a component and connection with sleep apnea.

Current statistics estimate that over 2 million Americans are living with inflammatory bowel disease. If a person has ulcerative colitis, he or she has inflammation of the colon. If a person has Crohn’s disease, the inflammation can occur throughout the gastrointestinal tract. There are periods of flare-ups as well as remissions. When a flare-up does occur, the individual will experience symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, bloody stools and abdominal pain.

Treatment for this group of gastrointestinal problems involves keeping flare-ups to a minimum. In early 2014, a study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology evaluated whether or not melatonin could be used to help treat people with irritable bowel syndrome. Researchers found that there was potential in using this supplement to lower GI pain and as a sleep promoter in those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.

Here are some additional tips that can help people with GI issues:

Eat last meal of day early: If you eat a meal late in the day, it means that your digestive tract will be working when you sleep. Not sound thinking for anyone, especially an individual who has digestive tract problems. Instead try eating your largest meal for breakfast and then taper down to smaller and smaller portions as the day goes on. This tip will also lower the incidence of diarrhea during the night, which can also disturb sleep.

Decrease stress: With stress being a trigger, development of reduction tactics can be key. Meditation, yoga and a number of other stress management tools can both increase sound sleep and decrease the troublesome flare-ups.

Seek treatment for sleep disorder: Lack of restorative sleep and gastrointestinal flare-ups can become a vicious cycle, with one prompting the other and vice versa. Not surprisingly treatment of a pre-existing or simultaneous sleep disorder can help on a number of fronts.

If you have gastrointestinal problems like Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome, and suspect you might have sleep apnea, please contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a consultation.

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