Everyone breathes differently when they are asleep. When you're sleeping, your body slows down, your breathing becomes shallower, and you take in less air in each breath. This can be dangerous for people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or other lung conditions. Many people with breathing problems prop themselves up with pillows while they sleep to avoid having trouble breathing but propping yourself up with pillows won't help this problem.
If your blood oxygen level is above 94% while you're awake, you might not need oxygen therapy during the day. If your blood oxygen level is below 94% during the day, you may need oxygen therapy for a while during the day, as well as all night long while you sleep. You can check your oxygen saturation level (SpO2) by using a pulse oximeter.
It's easy for your doctor to tell if you need oxygen therapy while you sleep. If he or she suspects that your blood oxygen level is dropping below the normal zone during the night, they may have you monitored overnight to get a reading. Should you need supplemental oxygen, your doctor would prescribe the oxygen. The prescription will inform you about the flow rate in liters per minute, type of flow (pulse or continuous), and the time of the day when oxygen is required.
How to tell if you're not getting enough oxygen at night:
There are a few signs to watch out for to see if you're not getting enough oxygen while you're sleeping. If you are experiencing any of these signs by themselves or in combination, don't ignore them. Not getting enough oxygen while you sleep for any length of time is dangerous.
You get plenty of sleep at night, the eight hours or so that you need each night (give or take a few hours, depending on the individual), but you still feel exhausted in the morning or throughout the day. Having a lack of oxygen in your bloodstream puts a strain on your heart and your brain, and the rest of your body has to work harder to make up for the lack of oxygen.
Aside from feeling more tired during the day, you will notice you can't think as clearly. Simple tasks can seem extremely hard and complicated to someone whose brain isn't receiving adequate oxygen. You can also experience regular headaches and become very irritable and moody for any small reason. You would also experience memory loss and the ability to concentrate that could be mistaken for the onset of Alzheimer's.
Is it Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is different because it is caused by either the throat muscles closing during sleep (known as, Obstructive Sleep Apnea) or from a rarer condition of your lungs not taking a breath periodically (known as, Central Sleep Apnea). A lack of oxygen in the blood due to COPD is from the lack of properly functioning air sacs (known as alveoli) in the lungs. In this condition, some of these air sacs shut down during our sleep, making it even harder to absorb enough oxygen into the bloodstream.
Using Oxygen with Sleep Apnea
If you have already been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) by your doctor, you probably also have a CPAP machine to use at night during sleep. A CPAP machine’s core function is to prevent the collapse of your airway while sleeping using pressurized air. However, CPAP machine’s air contains the normal air with 21% oxygen.
An immediate result of OSA is a persistent lack of oxygen during sleep. If your doctor has determined that your oxygen levels drop too low or too often while you sleep, even while using a CPAP machine, they might also prescribe supplemental oxygen to be used in conjunction with your CPAP machine to keep your oxygen levels normal. This is achieved by "bleeding-in" oxygen into your CPAP system to increase the oxygen level. Through a bleed-in adapter, you can get benefits of both – your CPAP machine and Oxygen Concentrator.
How to get more oxygen naturally:
- Open the windows - during the night to let the fresh air in and have better air circulation. During winters open your windows even for a few minutes can do wonders.
- Exercise - increases your body's activity and demands more oxygen. This enables the lungs to supply more oxygen throughout the body.
- Plants - release oxygen. Areca Palms, Snake Plants, Money Plants, Gerbera Daisies, and Chinese Evergreens are some low-maintenance indoor plants that produce oxygen and absorb toxic air pollutants.
Breathe Easy Stories: Britt Tackling Sleep Apnea
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- The Differences Between Oxygen Concentrators and CPAP Machines
Updated: March 16, 2020
Published: September 30, 2013