Sleep Apnea is Becoming More Common

Sleep apnea can prey on anyone. It's not an old person's disease and it's not a young person's disease. It's a person's disease.
Diverse Group of People on a Couch
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Published on
June 4, 2020
Updated on
February 15, 2023

To cut through some misconceptions, sleep apnea is not an old person's disease and it's not a young person's disease - it's a person's disease.

- Madan Kandula, MD

As a species our airways are becoming smaller, which is why you're seeing so many people who have with sleep issues. So if somebody has sleep apnea, what that means is that person's sleeping at night and their airway is shutting down. And when I say airway, I mean the back of their throat.

So they're trying to breathe, their throat is shutting down, and therefore they can't breathe. They stop breathing and then the body does something to wake them up mentally or shift positions so that their airway opens up again. That's sleep apnea. So if your airway can take a punch, then okay, you don't have sleep apnea. But what's happened over time is human skulls have changed. When you look at us in 2020 and you look at our ancestors pre-industrial age, in the early 1900s, our skulls don't look the same. Our airways are shrinking.

Nowadays, almost everyone has their wisdom teeth taken out. The reality is our great grandparents didn't get their wisdom teeth out. Not because they didn't have the medicine to do it, but because their jaws were bigger. Their airways were bigger.

If you think back to the industrial revolution, things have changed in our environment. There's different things in the air. Additionally, our environment at this point, is so clean and managed that our bodies aren't exposed to the things that our ancestors were.

Let's take allergies as an example. People living in a farming community back in the day were breathing in stuff constantly since they were born. When this happens your body adapts to it and says, "Hey, that's pollen. No big deal. We're going to move on." Now in our new environment, you're walking around in a city. You're walking around with your hands nicely washed, everything's clean and all of a sudden you see a little bit of pollen come through and what all allergies are, your body misidentifying something as an enemy. So your body's breathing a little pollen in and saying, "That's a poison and we need to shut that down. We're going to shut that down by swelling the lining of your nose up, making your eyes itch and water, and your nose run. We're going to make you sneeze." It's taking something that's not a problem and making it a problem.

Your nose is the start of your airway so if your nose is a little bit stuffy and you're a child, then what ends up happening is that a stuffy nose causes your mouth to drop open maybe just at night, maybe day and night. A mouth that's open creates a domino effect there too where your jaws do not form properly. Not everybody who has sleep apnea has that story, but a lot of folks do. Majority of sleep apnea sufferers had issues that started when they were kids. They might not have had sleep apnea then, but they were destined or programmed because of their environment to have an airway that they weren't supposed to have. And then as they get older and their airway is compromised.

When you hear the word sleep apnea, many think you have sleep apnea because of too much weight and sometimes that's true. But the flip opposite is actually more true... Unfortunately, I've recently recognized that if you have a compromised airway, you're almost guaranteed to have more weight on your body than you're supposed to have because it's hard to be active and productive and make the right choices food-wise when you're not breathing and sleeping properly. I don't. If I don't get a good night's sleep, the next day I'm less likely to exercise and more likely to eat trash. And so if you eat trash and you're not mobile, then you're going to put some weight on. You put weight on and you've got a compromised airway, that's going to make your airway even tighter and there you go.

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First published by ADVENT on
June 4, 2020
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Sleep Apnea is Becoming More Common