Can Exercise Help with Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea. Also known as obstructive sleep apnea-hypopnea syndrome (OSAHS), this disorder is characterized by breathing pauses lasting 10 to 30 seconds that can be repeated up to a hundred times during the night. This is due to partial or complete obstructions of the respiratory ducts located at the level of the back of the throat. The health consequences can be heavy.

If you have sleep apnea, your upper airways will close temporarily while you sleep preventing you from breathing. These periods of stopping your breath (called apnea) last for at least ten seconds and can occur several hundred times a night. The upper airways may close for the following reasons:

  • the muscles of the mouth and throat relax too much during sleep;
  • presence of adipose tissue in the neck narrowing the airways;
  • inflammation of the tonsils or other temporary reason;
  • the shape of the nose, neck or jaw create resistance to the passage

Apnea disrupts sleep and results in:

  • Inefficient  sleep
  • inability to concentrate
  • Loss of libido
  • A tired wake up
  • Headaches
  • Mood disorders
  • Excessive sleepiness during the day can result in a risk of an accident at work or on the road
  • The onset of certain diseases such as depression, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular risks, high blood pressure, infarction ….

In most cases, apneas are due to loosening of the tongue and throat muscles, which are not sufficiently tonic and block the passage of air during breathing. Thus, the person tries to breathe, but the air does not circulate because of the obstruction of the airways. That’s why doctors talk about obstructive apnea, or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) syndrome. This excessive laxity is especially important for the elderly, whose muscles are less tonic. Obese people are also more prone to sleep apnea because excess neck fat decreases the size of the airways.

More rarely, apneas are due to a malfunction of the brain, which stops sending the “order” of breathing to the respiratory muscles. In this case, unlike obstructive apneas, the person does not exert respiratory effort. This is called central sleep apnea. This type of apnea occurs mainly in people with a serious condition, such as heart disease (heart failure) or a neurological disease (eg meningitis, Parkinson’s disease …). They can also appear after a stroke or in cases of very significant obesity. The use of sleeping pills, narcotics or alcohol is also a risk factor.

Exercise and sleep apnea

Physical activity refers to any form of movement that leads to an increase in energy expenditure. It covers all daily activities, both professional, domestic and leisure (going to work, taking the stairs, shopping, cleaning, gardening, strolling with friends etc.). Thus physical activity covers a wider area than sport, which is practiced most often with a competition objective and meets specific rules.

To provide a beneficial effect on health, it is recommended to practice 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on 5 days of the week, or 20 minutes of intense activity over 3 days.

On the one hand physical activity impacts sleep, both its quantity and its quality. Firstly, it has a positive effect on the process of entering sleep by droping the body temperature (favorable to falling asleep). It also has an anti-depressant effect and helps to reduce a state of anxiety. In addition, both children and adults are generally more tired on the evenings when they have been physically active during the day. They usually fall asleep more quickly and sleep longer. Finally, physical activity also improves the quality of sleep: the different stages and cycles of sleep are more regular. Sleep is also more restorative since the duration of deep sleep is increased.

In addition a good quality sleep influences the physical activity: it encourages the desire to practice one (better form on waking), decreases the time of recovery, improves the performances, the muscular tone without running out etc.

Sleep apnea and physical activity also have a two-way relationship. It is established that sleep apnea, when left untreated, limits exercise capacity.

Several factors explain this phenomenon. On the one hand, the desire to sleep in people who sleep apnea reduces the need and time for activity (and promotes a decrease in tone, mood changes or depression). On the other hand, from a cardiovascular point of view, these people have a lower tolerance to physical activity (increased recovery time and blood pressure). Finally, an obstructive sleep apnea syndrome could induce a muscular change making it difficult to adapt to physical exercise.

The most positive effects of sports occur after physical exercise between 4 and 8 o’clock before bed. In contrast, the effects less positive occur after physical exercise practiced at more than 8 hours or less than 4 hours of bedtime. However, we can note that the assertion “that a late-night exercise disrupts sleep “is strongly defeated. Physical activity practice less than 4 hours before bedtime increases total sleep time, decreases the duration of nocturnal awakenings and increases only slightly the sleep latency.

The physical intensity of the exercise session did not show significant effects, whether subjects are trained or sedentary. This point is worth highlighting: physical activity in evening is quite feasible and practical especially for people who work.

This fact is especially true for physical activities endurance.

Duration of the exercise

If the duration of the session is less than 1 hour, the effects are negligible on the amount of sleep (2 minutes). For a duration of 1 to 2 hours, the sleep amount increases by 11 minutes on average. For a time greater than 2 hours, the effect is 15 minutes. The effect is therefore maximum for endurance athletes who train on significantly. For sedentary or regular practitioners, a minimum of one hour or more is therefore recommended.