Sleep is an often underestimated part of our lives. Even after considering the importance of sleep as being touted and hammered into our psyche by medical professionals and scientists, it is still underestimated.
You may be dramatically affected by silent sleep issues even if it feels restful. This is because we do not have a good way to sensitively assess the amount of oxygenation we’re getting while sleeping. We can only assess if you’re not breathing. However, we often cannot get into a deeper, restorative sleep because of hidden variables. We may be stuck in imperceptibly lighter levels of sleep because of 1) airway obstruction and 2) the physiological changes that occur with increased intracranial and lower lung pressure from lying flat.
We cannot assess situations where you have to maintain chronically lighter sleep (non-restorative sleep) in order to maintain your airway during sleep. There is a level where there is no snoring, and the perception of sleep is happening, but a lighter sleep is co-occuring with jaw and neck tension in a desperate attempt to keep the airway open. Dreams cannot occur fully without paralysis, thus, a sign of light sleep obstruction is often having no dreams.
Sleep studies can not pick up on subtle sleep obstruction. These are devastating in their effects due to their prolonged and covert nature. Apps, and smartwatches, cannot pick up on these variations.
You are severely sleep-deprived if you have trouble filtering out or concentrating on relevant data, you stare off into empty space or have trouble remembering things you just thought about, you want to go back to sleep for much longer after waking up, or you want to nap during the day (even if you don’t). However, many people don’t know the following can be attributed to ‘silent airway obstruction during sleep’
Deep sleep requires body paralysis. This is normal and is associated with blood flow changes which helps the ‘clean up’ process during this time. However, the deeper the sleep, the more relaxed the muscles. The more relaxed muscles often lead to airway obstruction. To counter this, we may need to ‘lighten’ our sleep to a less efficient state. The result is ‘lighter sleep’ and a tightening of certain muscles to achieve an open airway. The jaw and neck can tense up to help create the airway. This chronic tension can begin to be ‘baked in’ and thus lead to spill-over muscle tension throughout the day.
Another issue that isn’t often spoken about is that lying flat effectively increases pressure in the head. This can lead to sinus congestion, causing or worsening obstruction in the upper airway, but also increased ‘brain pressure’. This increased pressure leads to changes in the autonomic nervous system to attempt to reduce the pressure in the head. However, over time, this can actually lead to higher blood pressure and sympathetic overdrive, leading to palpitations and physical anxiety.
Many people are labeled with and receive attention deficit disorder when their ‘restful’ sleep is actually poor.
Other physical symptoms of silent sleep obstruction include:
Jaw, neck, and should tension
Tinnitus or ear problems
Blood pressure increases/fluctuations
Headache, migraine that doesn’t seem to get better
This is all due to the airflow changes that occur as a result of both 1) the high negative (vacuum) pressure required in the pharynx to take in air and the associated body consequences, the 2) the physiological changes of sleeping flat: higher intracranial pressure and increased pressure on in the lower part of the lungs.
People who have a history of being highly [physically] flexible may have a silent connective tissue disease and are at increased risk of this since their soft tissue can collapse more easily, creating an obstruction that has to be accommodated for by lightening the sleep level. They may also be at risk of being more affected by increased intracranial pressure due to the elastic properties of the collagen matrix.
A deeper explanation of the importance of sleep is discussed in the next part…