You know smoking isn’t good for your health for a variety of reasons: it’s known to cause certain types of cancer, it can lead to heart disease, erectile dysfunction, and diabetes. But did you know that sleep apnea is also linked to smoking? Smokers are three times as likely as non-smokers to develop sleep apnea. How is sleep apnea linked to smoking?
Smoking irritates your airways. This can lead to a constant cough, frequent nasal or sinus infections, and inflammation. This inflammation makes your airways swell and this swelling can obstruct your airways, leading to Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea affecting millions of people all over the world. You are particularly at risk for sleep apnea if you smoke and have airways that are small in structure. This inflammation can also irritate your upper airways, therefore leading to snoring. Snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea and should be checked out by your doctor.
Relaxes Airway Muscles
The nicotine in cigarettes is known to give smokers that “relaxation” effect, although in reality it actually increases your heart rate, not to mention is highly addictive and is actually an insecticide, meaning it’s used to kill insects. Exposure to nicotine can greatly affect your central nervous system and can hinder your growth. Nicotine also relaxes the muscles that keep your airways open while you’re sleeping, therefore leading to obstruction of the airways, and hence, Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This, in addition to the irritation, inflammation, and fluid retention that cigarette smoke can cause in the airways, can hinder your breathing and cause sleep apnea.
How Quitting Can Help
Quitting smoking is not easy—thanks to the highly addictive ingredient nicotine—but it is possible and there is help. Quitting smoking can help your sleep apnea almost immediately. You’ll be able to breathe better both while awake and while sleeping. The inflammation and fluid retention in your airways will decrease, and there’ll be no nicotine present to relax your airways, therefore helping by keeping them open and operable. You’ll be less likely to have obstructed airways during sleeping and therefore quitting smoking combined with other lifestyle changes such as exercise and decreased alcohol intake can help you overcome your sleep apnea.
Visiting your regular physician when trying to quit can also help, as they’ll be able to offer you support for helping you quit, including nicotine patches and gum to help ease cravings. Your dentist can also help you overcome sleep apnea while you’re trying to quit—dental appliances that help reposition your tongue or jaw may be able to help you breathe easier at night.
Smokers are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea, so quitting is your best option if you’re at risk or already have sleep apnea. Deciding to quit is the first step. By quitting smoking, you can breathe easier and work with your doctor and dentist to treat your sleep apnea, and hopefully one day be free from the disorder altogether.