Obesity is a risk factor for sleep apnea, although not everyone who suffers from sleep apnea is overweight. Similarly, exercise and weight loss can reduce the risk for sleep apnea and—in conjunction with treatment—limit sleep apnea’s effects, although many who suffer from sleep apnea are within their ideal weight ranges and are otherwise fit.

While fitness is a great weapon in combating sleep apnea, exercising when you suffer from sleep apnea may not be as simple as it sounds, even if you’re already in good shape. Sleep apnea can impair your fitness level and overall performance, especially when the condition goes undiagnosed.

man riding his bike outdoors in the sun

The Lows of Sleep Apnea at High Altitude

Here in Colorado, which consistently ranks among the nation’s healthiest states, fitness opportunities abound, and many people run, bike and hike in the warm months, and ski, snowboard and snowshoe in the winter. A number of athletes train in the Centennial State due to the additional benefits of exercising at high altitude, in which the body amps up its production of red blood cells to compensate for diminished oxygen saturation in the air and blood.

For those with sleep apnea, however, altitude poses a hurdle. A May 2016 article in Colorado’s Summit Daily discusses sleep apnea’s multipronged attack and the sleep disorder’s particular impacts on athletes at altitude. The article focuses on a Summit County doctor who led a healthy lifestyle that included regular exercise, but who noticed progressive difficulty sleeping.

He was eventually diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) after he also noted rising blood pressure, diminishing blood-oxygen levels, and a sinking heart rate. OSA is the most common form of sleep apnea, and it is a potentially deadly condition in which breathing stops for extended periods during sleep due to an obstructed airway. The physical effects, which further prevent the body from receiving restful sleep, may be especially noticeable at high altitude where the body is already coping with the “thinner” air.

Sleep Apnea and Lack of Sleep

Sleep apnea poses many threats to your well-being, including an increased risk for high blood pressure and heart problems, and some are directly linked to insufficient sleep. Lack of sleep disrupts cognitive abilities, slows reaction time, and saps fitness levels.

On its web page regarding the impacts of sleep loss on fitness, the Human Performance Resource Center states that while regular exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality, chronic inadequate sleep—such as that associated with sleep apnea—can reduce physical performance by curtailing motivation and alertness. Daytime drowsiness, lack of energy, and difficulty concentrating are all symptoms of sleep apnea.

A good night’s rest is vital for everyone, particularly athletes and those who engage in daily exercise. Physical activity takes a toll that requires the body to recharge; during sleep, the body repairs tissue, grows muscle, and synthesizes protein among other replenishing actions.

Watching for Sleep Apnea Indicators

While people differ in the amount of sleep required to perform at their best, most people need about seven or eight hours of sleep per day. But remember that eight hours in bed doesn’t equate to eight hours of sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea results in frequent breathing interruptions that prevent healthy, sustained sleep.

As a March 2015 article in Men’s Health points out, sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed because many who are afflicted with the condition don’t realize they have it. Symptoms such as snoring and breathing cessations occur when the body is trying to sleep, leaving many sleep apnea victims unaware of their presence, and sleep apnea sufferers don’t always align with key risk factors such as being male, being overweight or having a large neck.

Therefore, it’s important to be vigilant for more subtle sleep apnea indicators. These may include regular daytime sleepiness, routinely waking with a dry mouth or sore throat, morning headaches, and increasing feelings of irritability or depression.

Denver sleep apnea dentist Dr. Kevin Berry understands the damaging effects of sleep apnea, and he has helped numerous patients regain restful sleep with the use of comfortable oral appliances. If you or a loved one suffers from sleep apnea symptoms, please call the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado at (303) 691-0267 to schedule your consultation.