Sleep Apnea- an overview

Sleep Apnea- an overview

sleep apnea cutaway side view

Sleep apnea occurs when the throat is blocked

Sleep Apnea is a common disorder where a sleeper will stop breathing or take very shallow breaths while sleeping.  Apnea means ‘a suspension of breathing’.  These pauses in breathing can last from a few seconds to a few minutes and can occur from 5 to 30 or more times in an hour.

Normal breathing usually starts again often with a loud snort or choking sound.  Your brain, in most cases, recognizes the level of oxygen in the blood is dropping and will move you to start breathing again, often with a gasp.

Sleep Apnea is usually an ongoing (chronic) condition that disrupts sleep and the sleeper will often move from a deep sleep to a lighter sleep when the breathing pauses or becomes shallow.  This results in poor sleep quality, making you tired during the day and is one of the leading causes of daytime drowsiness.

Often Sleep Apnea is undiagnosed.  Most people who suffer from it don’t know they have it since it only occurs during sleep.  Often times your sleep partner will be the first to notice it.  Sleep Apnea is diagnosed through an overnight sleep test called a polysomnogram- a ‘sleep study’.

Three types of Sleep Apnea-

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common type and generally means that the airway has collapsed or is blocked during sleep.  The blockage causes the shallow breathing or breathing pauses.  Obstructive Sleep Apnea is more common in people who are overweight, but can affect anyone.  Other factors that increase the risk of  Obstructive sleep apneas include smoking, poor muscle tone, diabetes and old age.  The partial blockage of the airway is what produces the snoring that is often found with Obstructive Sleep Apnea.  Ways to lower the risk of OSA is to avoid alcohol, lose weight, and sleep at a 30 degree elevation of the upper body (gravity helps keep the airway clear)

Central sleep apnea is a less common type and occurs when the area of your brain that controls breathing doesn’t send the correct signals to your breathing muscles.  Central Sleep Apnea can occur in anyone, but is most common in people who have certain medical conditions or take certain medicines. (Find out which- medical conditions and medicine issues)

With Central sleep apnea the individual just doesn’t breathe, the signal to inhale is not given and the sleeper misses one or more breathing cycles.

Complex or ‘Mixed’ Sleep Apnea is when Central Sleep Apnea and Obstructive sleep apnea occur together.  At times, long periods of OSA can bring about CSA.

Untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of:

sleep apnea issues

Issues that can result from obstructive sleep apnea

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Attack
  • Stroke
  • Obesity and
  • Diabetes

It Can also-

Increase the risk or worsen Heart Failure

Make arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, more likely

Increase the chance of having work related or driving accidents

Sleep apnea is a long term condition that requires long term management through lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, surgery and breathing devices that can successfully treat many sufferers.  To learn more about Sleep Apnea, causes, symptoms and treatments, you can visit the American Sleep Apnea Association website.