Summary: Sleep apnea continues to rob millions of African American women of sleep, which can lead to increased risk of several life-threatening conditions. With African Americans at greater risk of the disorder, the question is being asked; to what degree are African American women at risk?
Hundreds of times every night, millions of African American women stop breathing intermittently during sleep for as much as 20 to 30 seconds at a time. Other than the fatigue and lack of alertness, which are just the daily symptoms, most of those women are unaware that they suffer from a growing serious health risk known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
With long term health risks including a dramatically increased risk of heart attack, stroke, hypertension and even some cancers, an increasing amount of statistical evidence from researchers and all quarters of the health continuum show that African Americans are at a greater risk for OSA. This supports the mounting evidence that an increasing percentage of African American women are at risk of the condition.
OSA and African American women
The severity of sleep apnea is measured in events per hour with the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI). An AHI of less than 5 is considered normal. An AHI of 5-15 is mild; 15-30 is moderate and more than 30 events per hour are considered severe sleep apnea.
While the American Sleep Apnea Association says that about 70 percent of people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are overweight or obese, many women of color within normal weight parameters suffer from the disorder. However, a 2004 study sponsored by the National Institute of Health did find shared and unshared genetic factors that may affect the risk of both obesity and sleep apnea in African Americans.
Like most health conditions, OSA has not received the same level of study in African Americans and particularly African American women as with Caucasians. However, one of the first studies was profiled by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine that showed middle aged, pre-menopausal African American women to be more likely to suffer from OSA symptoms than their white counterparts.
Although awareness of OSA in the African American community is growing, there continues to be a marked lack of women that take the initiative to be screened for the disorder. Melissa Bynes Brooks, the Clinical Coordinator of Broward Health Coral Springs Sleep Disorders Center and editor of Brooks Sleep Review recently penned an article with some startling statistics regarding African Americans and OSA. The article entitled
“Why Are Black People Dying in Their Sleep” discussed a community-based sample of 421 Black patients referred by their private care physicians where only 38 percent followed the recommendation for a sleep consultation.
Currently, the gold standard treatment for OSA is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy. CPAP therapy requires the patient to wear a mask that is connected to a
CPAP machine that supplies a regulated stream of air to the sleeping patient. This serves to increase the flow of oxygen and reduce the apnea events as well as reduce the short-term and long-term health risks of OSA.
According to a recent study, 93 percent of women and 82 percent of men with moderate to severe OSA have not been clinically diagnosed. Research also shows that nearly 80 percent of African Americans suffer from sleep disorder symptoms. Of those African Americans that do get diagnosed and start CPAP therapy, compliance remains a significant roadblock.
A recent article urging African American CPAP Compliance was one of an increasing number urging them to utilize the life-saving therapy.
Spreading the good news for health
Famous African Americans are beginning to do their part as well. As part of the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine’s
expanded online OSA information repository on OSA, Shaquille O’Neal who suffers from sleep apnea, has included an informational video on the disorder aimed at African Americans.
OSA affects an estimated 15 million to 20 million Americans, as well as millions more who remain undiagnosed and untreated. Sleep apnea robs the body and the brain of sufficient oxygen, which in the short-term manifests itself in daytime sleepiness, fatigue, brain fog, and headaches. While these symptoms can clearly be improved for most people with OSA that utilize CPAP masks and machines, the brain itself can also be positively affected.
Although there are clearly many people and experts from all quarters sounding the alarm for African American women regarding OSA, the lack of significant widespread studies keeps the disorder off of the radar of the millions of black women that are living with the symptoms of OSA and the higher long-term health risks that it brings.
Outreach regarding the tools and tactics that benefit the health of African American women is clearly working overall as the life expectancy and overall health of this significant sector of society improves in many ways. Increased diligence and communication to spread the word regarding OSA is the key to helping African American women help themselves to lead healthier, longer, more productive and happier lives.
E. Victor Brown is a freelance writer specializing in health and health technology and its effects on the health of African Americans. His research and writing has covered Sleep Disorder Breathing, OSA and by extension, the technology and use of a CPAP Machine and CPAP Masks as part of effective therapy for African Americans and other populations.
I used to teach these two lovely ladies once a week at 6:30 in the morning. Every week, they would show up like clockwork, them and them alone. My morning class went from that of a general open level setting, to a very friendly, and personal semi-private – to the point we carried our friendship off the mat, and out into the world. Every now and then, when the weather was terrible, or someone had worked too late the night before, I would receive a text that said, “Sorry, Aryn. Today we’ll be practicing sleep yoga.”
Now, they were just letting me know they were going to sleep an extra hour, and they would see me at my next class, but in the realm of yoga – sleep yoga does actually exist. Yoga Nidra is a style of yoga that helps you glide into a sleep like state, by means of guided meditation. By concentrating on our breath, and following the instruction of a Yoga Nidra teacher, Sleep Yoga can helps us, simply, let go of the stress and tensions of every day life.
Benefits of Yoga Nidra include: Improved concentration and focus, a clear mind, and improved performance at work and in other areas of life. According to The National Sleep Foundation it also helps improve menstrual problems, and even helps relieve post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD).
Personally, I love yoga nidra. It is something I do at least once a week to help ensure I am getting the amount of sleep that I need. As the Dalai Lama said, “Sleep is the best meditation.” But remember, sometimes meditation is the best way to get a full nights sleep.
I’m Aryn, a mother of one born in Ohio, living in California. I love ice cream, but I don’t eat it and couldn’t even if I wanted to, and I hate popcorn. I love carnivals and summer, the beach and ocean, I love yoga and to live every moment the best that I can with my family, and I really, really love to write.
You can find Aryn at her wonderful blog Weekly Adventures. Ordinary Girl.
or she is quite active on Twitter at @ArynYoungless
A special note from me to to Aryn:
From the very beginning of my blogging journey (about three years ago now) you have been there. You are someone I can always share things with about my writing, my yoga practice, and life. Thank you for being a guest blogger here at The Warm Milk Journal and
most of all,
thank you for being my friend.
A single rose can be my garden… a single friend, my world. ~ Leo Buscaglia
I invite you to think about your significant other… focus on how blessed you are that they are in your life.
Then just write what you appreciate about them.
What we appreciate, appreciates!
What we focus on grows!
Who does not want more love in their lives, right? What is more important when it comes right down to it, hmmm…?
Okay, so my journal entry may look like this. I will begin, then you do your own. Deal?
What I love about my husband is:
1. his optimism
2. his kindness
3. his rugged good looks
4. his smile
5. his flexibility
6. his ability to put up with silly me!
I will continue in my private journal so that you may begin your own entry…
*note: if you are not married or in a relationship right now, you can write about the qualities that you appreciate about your ideal partner (in present tense with feeling as if they are in your life now).
Love has no desire but to fulfill itself. To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving. ~ Kahlil Gibran
Breathing for Sleep
Breathing for Sleep is adapted information found in Nurturing Wellness through Radical Self-Care.
REB posture is an energy psychology and autonomic nervous system balance that calms
and soothes, creating rapid positive change in your body.
The breathing exercise below encourages you to try the REB posture while breathing for sleep. The REB posture diagram
The best tip I have about awakening during the night is to accept that you have awakened. Don’t allow the sleeplessness to anger and frustrate you. The frustration,tossing, and turning only delay sleep and exhaust you. When you wake up in the middle of the night, Radiant Energies Balance (REB) will help you get back to sleep.
I recommend that you find the easiest way to hold the posture comfortably while in bed I usually turn on my side, because the bed helps support the posture. If no other health problems exist, once your relaxation response is locked in, sleep will be less of an issue or no issue at all.
We are going to use a technique call Gap Breathing for this exercise. Inhale. Pause two or three counts. Exhale. Pause for two or three counts. During the pause, notice how quiet your mind is. There is complete silence in the natural gap between your in-breath and your out-breath. This is a great breathing technique for anyone who has trouble with a chattering mind, especially at night.
• Use the Gap Breathing mentioned above. Begin by taking a nice, normal deep breath, hold it for a second and then drop the breath into your lower
abdomen. Begin to breathe from your abdomen. Normal, deep breathing is calming.
• Breathe from your abdomen; inhale, continuing to use gap breathing.
• Begin to use the REB posture. Use bilateral squeezing if it is comforting to you. Bring the issue you are worrying about to mind and notice your body
as you breathe. Notice the areas of bodily tension and focus on them as you breathe. You can imagine that you are breathing into the stressed areas. Continue focusing and breathing until the tension reduces or disappears. Notice the next area of tension and repeat the instructions. Notice your thoughts, especially worry and fear thoughts.
• Allow yourself to relax around each troubling thought until the emotional impact is gone.
• Focus on your breath. Notice yourself inhaling. Notice the quietness in the gap at the top of your inhale. Exhale, and notice the gap at the end of the exhale. Notice your body as you let go of stress with each exhale. Notice how it feels to inhale, hold the gap, exhale, hold the gap. If you feel your mind begin to wonder, bring your focus back to the breath. Continue to breathe this w ay until you drift into sleep.
• If you haven’t drifted off to sleep after a reasonable time, notice how relaxed your body has become. Continue to focus on your breath and your breathing. Resting quietly is much more preferable than tossing and turning or getting up and watching TV. Quiet rest is very deep and very restorative. Accept your situation and rest quietly.
• Occasionally I’ll add paired words (peaceful–rest or soft–comforting) to my in breath and out breath in just the same way I add them during walking meditation. This causes a deep ANS response because you are getting the relaxation of the breath paired with the relaxing frequency of the verbal message.
Our guest blogger:
Janet Nestor, a positivity mentor, has published two uplifting books. Her newest book, Nurturing Wellness through Radical Self-Care: A Living in Balance Guide and Workbook offers a Mindfulness Based Recovery and Rejuvenation program. Pathways to Wholeness (2010), has inspired readers to live an aware, mindful life since 2010 utilizing walking meditation and mindful breathing,
Specializing in stress reduction, Janet is a licensed professional counselor, Diplomate in Comprehensive Energy Psychology, Diagnostic Prescriptive Educator, Soul Detective, and natural intuitive. She works with individuals and groups, primarily by phone and Skype and enjoys guesting
on radio shows, teleclasses, and as a writer whenever possible.
If a good night sleep remains elusive for you, try:
1. skipping your afternoon cola, coffee, or tea
2. not watching television at night
3. don’t exercise after 6:00pm
4. An hour before bedtime sip on that herbal sleepytime tea or glass of warm milk
5. Do some light stretching and breathing exercises.
6. Clear your mind of things that you are either upset about or excited about. A hot bath and getting lost in a good book before sleep is a good way to relax the mind.
If we are confident in ourselves and the direction our lives are taking, we will sleep well at night, guaranteed!
Tonight’s journal writing question is simply this:
What makes me feel confident in myself and in my life?
Then, write away!
Let’s see, this is how I would answer this question tonight….
What makes me confident in myself and in my life:
1. Trying new things
2. Being excited about things
3. Doing something that I was afraid of (I did anyway despite the fear).
4. Sharing with others something I feel enthusiastic about.
5. Sharing with others my gifts and my passions.
6. Having the ability to embrace change
7. Continuing to work on myself and develop new skills
8. Knowing and having faith that God loves me and the universe works with me.
I will stop here, and permit you to start your writing.
If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. ~Vincent Van Gogh
You know you really need some sleep when:
1. after pouring yourself a cup of coffee, you put the carafe in the refrigerator rather than the coffee maker.
2. everything makes you cry or
3. everything makes you laugh hysterically.
4. you barely recognize the reflection staring back at you in the mirror.
5. people take one look at you and they know they don’t want to mess with you.
6. you don’t care about what your hair looks like
7. you don’t want to deal with wearing contacts (your eyes are too bleary and irritated).
8. you look forever for the keys that are in your pocket and the glasses that are on top of your head.
9. you forget to feed your cat (the horror)!
Yep, you’re a wreck for sure. If this remotely sounds like you, it is time to:
1. brew up some sleepy time tea,
2. eat a light supper,
3. close up the computer,
4. turn the smartphone off,
5. take a hot lavender bath,
6. light a candle,
7. get in your comfortable pjs,
8. tell your family goodnight,
9. feed the cat so it won’t disturb you,
10. slip into bed and read a book. A book? yes, a book! (I caught you…put that phone away)!
11. Soon you will be ready to turn off the lights and sleep.
Tonight, you will sleep. The cares of the world do not pertain to you tonight.
This is your time to simply check out
Good night and sweet dreams.
I would like to offer you an opportunity to submit a guest post for The Warm Milk Journal. Our readership continues to grow and is now getting over 11,000 visitors from around the world a month. We have hundreds of followers on our Facebook page and at this writing, 16,461 people following us on Twitter.
I will share and market your post as much as I would my own. If your post is published here, I expect you to do the same.
A few guidelines:
1. Familiarize yourself with our site first. Our content is a bit eclectic. We welcome anything that supports living a well balanced life by day and sleeping restfully at night. Most posts are pretty short in length.
2. Sample topics may include anything to do with: insomnia, anxiety, health and wellness, journal writing, what makes us happy, how to relax and overcome stress, spirituality, meditation, poetry, travel, bedroom design and decor, etc.
3. People I would like to hear from: any person who is challenged and has solutions for above topics, people from the health and wellness industry, medical providers such as: doctors, nurses, counselors, yoga instructors, massage therapists, chiropractors, etc., hospitality industry (hotel managers or B&B owners), travel industry, mattress companies, sleep aid products, feng shui experts, etc.
4. Note, it is fine that you have a product or service but please offer content of value to our readership. I will not publish anything that is strictly a marketing piece.
5. Your submission needs to be an original post (not published on your own site or anywhere else).
6. Interested? Please email me: Debratech@msn.com. Attach your article via an editable Word document. You may include a brief bio, link to your site, and a photo you would like me to use.
This blogging journey has been a tremendously rewarding one. There is nothing like feeling passionate about something and sharing it with others. I feel very blessed to be sharing this experience with you. I am excited to see what comes of this. We are never alone and we can always learn from each other. I think it will be wonderful for you to be able to share here at The Warm Milk Journal and for our readership to enjoy new content from different voices.
Tonight, I offer you these five therapies to get a good night sleep (and they won’t cost you a penny)!
1. Walking. There is nothing like a great walk outside in the fresh air. I always sleep better if I have taken at least one walk during the day or night.
2. Meditation: It can be sitting still or part of the walking therapy (see above). A still, centered mind is what we need to sleep restfully.
3. Writing: in all forms! Journal writing, poetry, free writing, writing down our worries, writing down our questions, affirmations, etc. Just write!
4. Love: spend quality time with loved ones (including pets).
5. Cooking: I just love to pour my glass of red wine, crank up the jazz music on Pandora, and cook away. Very healing and creative and spiritual (the cooking part), Good food in belly (the eating part), sleep (the result)…
These five therapies are a good start. To be continued…