Athletes travel frequently for events all over the nation, and sometimes, the world. Whether you play football, complete triathlons, or bike marathons, you go where your sport takes you. Sometimes, this means sudden gains in altitude. Altitude gain can throw off your game by leaving you struggling to breath thinner air, but that’s not the only problem you face. If you suffer from sleep apnea, traveling to altitude could cause a significant increase in your symptoms.
The Change from Obstructive to Central Sleep Apnea
Quality sleep enhances your athletic performance. Sleep apnea deprives you of valuable sleep time. Athletes who suffer from sleep apnea can get their head back in the game by improving their sleep quality with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). These machines increase airflow throughout the night and give you the rest you need. Despite the benefits of CPAP, many people choose to leave their CPAP machine at home while traveling to avoid hauling it around. They would prefer dealing with a few nights of lost sleep over traveling with the extra baggage.
For athletes traveling to higher altitudes, leaving your CPAP at home could cause an increase in your sleep apnea symptoms. Sudden altitude gain is associated with an increase of apneas throughout the night. Research has also found that with sudden altitude gain, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), caused by soft tissues in your mouth and throat obstructing your airway, turns into central sleep apnea (CSA). With CSA, your brain doesn’t send proper signals to your respiratory system, causing your breathing to start and stop multiple times as you sleep. The change from OSA to CSA increases your sleep disturbances, significantly reducing the amount of sleep you get and negatively impacting your performance.
Although they are not all built for easy travel, you should bring your CPAP with you when you travel to higher altitudes. Studies have found that CPAP effectively manages your blood oxygen levels even at higher altitudes. With normal blood oxygen levels, you can sleep peacefully.
The Danger of Undiagnosed OSA at Altitude
If you snore or experience daytime sleepiness after a good night’s rest, you should consider having a sleep study to detect any previously undiagnosed sleep apnea problems before you travel. You will want to know about any previously undiagnosed OSA problems in order to avoid developing CSA. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, CPAP might benefit you during your trip.
Even if you have no travel plans in the near future, knowing whether or not you have sleep apnea could save your life. Research has linked sleep apnea to heart disease, liver disease, hypertension, and an increased risk of vehicle accidents. Whether your sports performance or your health motivates you most, Dr. Kevin Berry can help you manage your sleep apnea with a range of different treatment options.
CPAP is not the only treatment option available to you. In many cases of OSA, a custom oral sleep apnea appliance worn at night will support your throat and mouth, opening up your airway.