As we round the corner of the year into deep fall, it’s time to consider something that nobody likes: seasonal snoring and sleep apnea. Some people have sleep apnea year round. They may see it worsen at times, however. Others develop relatively mild sleep apnea, often with accompanying snoring, only part of the year.
The winter is a particularly bad time for snoring and sleep apnea. One cause of increased snoring and sleep apnea is decreased exercise as the weather gets cold. This can cause someone previously without sleep apnea, or with sleep apnea that had been well-controlled by oral appliance therapy, to experience a noticeable impact on their sleep.
Watch for Sleep Apnea Symptoms
If you have had sleep apnea in the past, you might remember what it feels like. However, if you’ve forgotten, or if you’ve never had sleep apnea, it’s worthwhile to review the common symptoms:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Morning headaches
- Waking up feeling unrested
- Fatigue or loss of drive
- Low mood, irritability, or depression
- Memory problems
- Loss of joy
Clearly, these symptoms can be a big problem for trying to enjoy the holiday season. If you start to experience them, it’s time to try to ramp up your daily exercise routine.
Daily exercise through the winter can help combat sleep apnea and related problems because it:
- Keeps muscles in good tone to support airway
- Helps avoid weight gain
- Makes you tired by the end of the day
- Supports circadian rhythm
One cause of obstructive sleep apnea is that your muscles have a hard time holding your airway open at night. You can help them by maintaining a good exercise routine. This most likely won’t be dedicated to your neck and jaw, but it helps.
Your airway is also more likely to collapse if you have more fat pressing down on the airway when you sleep. On average, people gain 1-2 pounds over the winter. Avoiding holiday or winter weight gain can help you keep your airway open.
Being active and getting good exercise in the day makes it easier for you to fall asleep at night. Daily activity supports good circadian rhythm, especially if you exercise outside whenever possible.
Unfortunately, many people let their exercise routine slack in the winter. Here’s how you can stay active all season long.
You can take some of the bite out of winter weather by making sure you’ve got adequate cold weather exercise gear. Dress warmly but not too warmly, making sure you have a clothing level for a wide range of weather conditions, including wet and dry weather.
As with summer routines, it’s ideal if you start out slightly chilly, then you’ll be able to warm as you exercise.
Let Yourself Acclimate
It can take time to acclimate to the cold weather. Let yourself take it easy as you acclimate. Think about when you started your routine, and how long it took you to build up to your current level. Cut back to a fraction of the level you were doing at the end of summer, and start with that. It’ll be easier to get out in the cold if it’s just for a little while. Then you can build up more and more as you get adjusted to the cold.
The Right Light
It’s not just cold that makes exercise so hard in the winter. It’s also the loss of light. On the winter solstice in Omaha, there are nearly six hours less daylight than on the summer solstice. That’s a big loss to your day, and it can also sap your motivation to get out and exercise. It’s especially hard to get yourself out to the gym when it’s dark both when you go to work and when you return home. (Working 8-5, you’d see just 15 minutes of daylight each day for most of December!)
Even people who workout in the gym and aren’t affected much by cold can find the loss of light saps their motivation to workout.
There are a few ways to help yourself stay motivated despite the loss of light. First, you could try getting powerful, full-spectrum lights at home. These mimic sunlight and can help some people with the seasonal impact of short days. You can also switch your workout to your lunch hour. This will help you get more natural light, and it’s easier to be motivated when you’re not as tired from just waking up or after a long day of work. Finally, you might try switching your exercise routine to your home.
Workout at Home for the Holidays
Although it can be less satisfying to do your workouts at home, it is also less challenging. You don’t have to go anywhere, and you don’t have to worry about what people at the gym are going to think or say about you. Just do the workout and get it done.
It doesn’t take a lot of equipment to help you get by the worst of the doldrums. A stationary bike, a treadmill, or some weights can do it. You technically don’t need any equipment to get a good workout, just a little space.
Being able to workout at home also gives you an option if we get one of our famous Omaha blizzards and you can’t make it out to work, let alone to workout!
If Snoring or Sleep Apnea Does Creep Up
If you find that despite maintaining your exercise, you do develop snoring or mild sleep apnea, it’s time to try a few things, like:
- Adjust your appliance
- Try a different sleeping position
- Cut down on alcohol
- Try a humidifier
- Talk to a sleep dentist
If you already have an oral appliance for snoring or sleep apnea and you were taught how to adjust it, try adjusting it. This might be all it takes to control your snoring and sleep apnea over the winter.
You can also try shifting from sleeping on your back to sleeping on your side. This will help your airway stay open at night. Alcohol causes your muscles to relax, making it more likely that your airway will collapse, so save most of your alcohol for visits with family and friends, and cut yourself off at least four hours before bed.
The dry, dusty air from forced air heat can irritate your nose and throat, causing swelling that leads to snoring. A humidifier can reduce irritation from dry air and dust.
However, if these don’t work to head off snoring, it might be time to get evaluated for sleep apnea by talking to a sleep dentist. Please call (402) 493-4175 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center in Omaha.