Sleep apnea: modern disease needs old-fashioned cures

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A man is examined for obstructive sleep apnea. Photo courtesy of VnExpress

T.T.T frequently stops breathing when he sleeps, and sleep is usually accompanied by nightmares.

The 37-year-old IT professional from Ho Chi Minh City, overweight at 85kg, has developed a short memory span and finds it difficult to focus.

When he sought medical help, T. was diagnosed with a severe case of obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by blockage of the upper airway during sleep. Heavy breathing pauses while sleeping reduces supply of oxygen to the blood and leads to mental problems, he was told.

"My wife recently asked to sleep separately as she could not bear my snores any longer," he said.

Doctors say the stressful modern lifestyle has seen an increase in the problem of sleep apnea, which can lead to cardiac problems, not to mention worsen existing health conditions, a Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper report said recently.

Studies at Cho Ray, a leading hospital in HCMC, have found that more than 80 percent of sleep disorders are obstructive sleep apnea. Men and women seem to be afflicted by the problem in equal numbers, but men account for more of the severe cases.

The syndrome is characterized by loss of breath for ten to 30 seconds a time for more than 30 times a night, and snoring is a typical symptom.

The HCMC Community Healthcare Center receives more than 200 visits for sleep order examination a month and most of them suffered from apnea at sleep.

No official study has looked into the condition at the national level, but doctors in HCMC say it can affect people from all walks of life white or blue collar, businessmen or professionals like engineers or drivers.

The syndrome is seen most in people 40-60 years old.

Experts from HCMC Respiratory Association warn that obstructive sleep apnea can lead to cardiac complications like hypertension and even fatal strokes while sleeping.

They say treatment depends on factors causing the obstruction. It can require just changes in behavior or more serious interventions like surgery to open the airway and restore normal breathing during sleep.

Overweight people like T. can help themselves by losing weight, doctors said, saying a little as a 10 percent loss in weight can help reduce episodes of sleep apnea.

The respiratory association estimates that half the people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea are obese.

Doctors say such people should avoid consuming alcoholic drinks several hours before sleep, sleep to one side, and use nose drops to ease blockage.

Special devices can be inserted in the mouth at sleep for people with oral structures that tend to cause air blockages, such as a large tongue and small jaws. Respirators also provide effective assistance.

Doctors say one of the best ways to ensure a proper sleep pattern is regular morning exercises, a balance between mental and physical work, as well as between work and entertainment.

Green lotus. Photo by Thanh Tung



In this modern life, when one easily loses sleep to multiple pressures at work, study, family issues, diseases and the environment, some traditional dishes made with lotus seeds and certain kinds of mushrooms can help.

Just boiling lotus seeds to make a soup with salt to taste two hours before going to bed can make it easier for one to fall asleep or enjoy a more restful sleep than usual.

The seeds can also be used to make porridge with some sticky rice and lean pork, or combined with sea cucumber with a 1:2 ratio to make a soup that can be had at any time of the day before supper.

Lotus seeds are used in many sweet soups that usually use rock sugar, which has cooler sweetness than normal sugar.

A soup made with 100 grams of lotus seeds, 20 grams of lingzhi mushroom, some sticky rice and rock sugar can be had an hour or more before one goes to bed.

Another dish that helps induce good sleep is coconut soup made with 100 grams of lotus seeds, 100 grams of coconut flesh and rock sugar. Another alternative is longan soup made with 100 grams of lotus seeds, 200 grams of dried longan flesh and rock sugar.

The wood ear (moc nhi in Vietnamese or also known as nam meo) mushroom is an ingredient in many dishes that promote sleep:

- Put equal amounts of wood ear and silver ear mushrooms in a bowl with rock sugar and steam the fungi until soft. The dish should be consumed in the evening.

- Boil 15 grams of wood ear mushroom and half that amount of silver ear mushroom, 6 grams of lingzhi mushroom, five dried Chinese dates (jujube), and some ginger slices in 750 milliliters of water; divide into two portions and have them before lunch and supper.

- Cook 40 grams of wood ear and silver ear fungi with some Chinese dates in 750 milliliters of water with rock sugar for use in the evening.

Rau nhut, a flowering plant belonging to the Mimoseae tribe of the pea family, can also offer convenient sleep therapy. It is used as a vegetable in Vietnam and can be part of daily meals. The vegetable can be eaten raw or used as the main ingredient in different kinds of soup including the sour soup with tamarind and freshwater fish; or a root soup with taro, lotus root and shrimp or meat.

Other sleep-friendly foods include soups made with: oysters and lean pork; the leafy part of red onions and dried Chinese dates; young rooster with dried longan flesh, a little wine, vinegar, ginger, onions and other seasonings; or porridge with dried longan flesh and chestnuts.

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