Sleep Apnea Overview
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or instances of shallow breathing while you sleep, called apneas. It often goes undiagnosed due to its broad symptoms. Each apnea can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes and may occur 30+ times each hour. During these pauses, your airway relaxes and you are unable to receive enough air to your lungs, causing snoring. Typically an apnea is followed by a loud gasp for air as you are trying to catch your breath. People with the disorder tend to suffer from fatigue and daytime sleepiness due to the disruption of deep sleep throughout the night. It can also increase the risk for stroke, obesity, depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Below are the three forms of sleep apnea:
In central sleep apnea, breathing is interrupted by a lack of respiratory effort. Simply put, your brain’s respiratory control centers are imbalanced during sleep and aren’t able to signal to inhale. This causes the entire system to cycle between normal and irregular breathing, and can even happen when you’re awake. This type of is the least common.
In obstructive sleep apnea, breathing is interrupted by a physical block to airflow despite respiratory effort. Soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and creates the blockage, cutting off airflow. Obstructive is the most common type, and typically occurs more in people that are overweight, although it can affect anyone. .
Complex or mixed sleep apnea is a combination of both central and obstructive sleep apnea. It affects anywhere from 0.56% to 18% of sleep apnea patients.
Symptoms of central and obstructive sleep apnea often overlap, but here are a few of the most common signs and symptoms of this sleep disorder:
- Loud snoring, most common in the obstructive form of the disorder.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Episodes of breathing cessation during sleep (observed by another person)
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath
- Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Morning headaches
- Difficulty staying asleep
Sleep apnea can affect anyone, even children. However, there are certain factors that may increase your risk of having the sleep disorder. For obstructive sleep apnea, the most common, some of them include:
- Excess weight: people with excess weight have four times the risk of having the sleep disorder; fat deposits around the upper airway may obstruct breathing.
- Family history: if people in your family have sleep apnea, you may have an increased risk of having it.
- Gender: men are twice as likely to have it.
- Getting older: sleep apnea occurs more often in older adults.
- Smoking: Smoking can increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway, putting you at risk for having the sleep disorder.
When to See a Doctor
The most immediate effect of sleep apnea is daytime drowsiness, so if you notice that you’re falling asleep at work or on the road, pay the doctor a visit. Also, if you’ve been snoring loud enough to disturb the sleep of others or experiencing shortness of breath during sleep; seek advice from a medical professional.
After doing so, your physician will advise you on the next best step. Your physician may suggest testing your sleep using a Home Sleep Test. Home Sleep Tests are self-administered and collect data as you sleep in the comfort of your own home.