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About Sleep Apnea

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea can be a serious sleep disorder. People who have sleep apnea stop breathing for 10 or more seconds at a time while they are sleeping (one apneic event). These short cessations in breathing can happen up to 800 times or more every night. If you have sleep apnea, the periods of stopped breathing may wake you from deep sleep. If you are waking from deep sleep to light sleep all night long, however briefly, you aren’t getting enough restful sleep. Most often times however, we have ‘mini arousals’ that still take us out of the deeper levels of sleep and into the shallow, Stage 1 sleep, but since we are still sleeping we are not at all aware that it happened.

Of the two types of sleep apnea, Obstructive Apnea and Central Apnea, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common. Nine out of 10 people with sleep apnea have this type of apnea. If you have OSA, there are blockages in the airway which reduce blood Oxygen levels in the body. These blockages may be the tongue, tonsils, uvula, redundant throat tissue. Even a blocked nasal airway can cause a blockage in the rest of the airway. The airway might also be blocked by a large amount of fatty tissue in the throat or even by relaxed throat muscles. In most cases, this condition causes a decrease in air intake and ultimately, oxygen supply to your entire body.

On the other hand, Central Sleep Apnea is rare and is related to the function of the central nervous system. Patients with this condition lack the “go ahead” signal from your brain to trigger the muscles you use to breathe. The brain may not transmit the signal or the signal may be interrupted.

What are the associated symptoms of sleep apnea?

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  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Frequent episodes of obstructed breathing during sleep. (The patient may be unaware of this symptom, realizing it only after a bed partner has brought it to his or her attention.)
  • Loud snoring
  • Clenched jaw
  • Morning headaches
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Dry mouth upon awakening
  • High blood pressure
  • Overweight/obesity
  • Irritability
  • Change in personality
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive perspiration during sleep
  • Heartburn
  • Reduced libido
  • Insomnia
  • Restless sleep
  • Nocturnal snorting, gasping, choking (may wake self up)
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Confusion upon awakening

How serious is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. The risks of undiagnosed OSA include heart attacks, strokes, impotence, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and heart disease. In addition, OSA can cause daytime sleepiness that can result in accidents, lost productivity and interpersonal relationship problems. The severity of the symptoms ranges from mild to severe. Sleep apnea is a progressive condition, worsening with age, and should not be taken lightly.

Is sleep apnea common?

Doctors estimate that about 18 to 70 million Americans have sleep disordered breathing and/or sleep apnea. It affects all ages, and the damages vary based on the age of the person with apnea.

Will this problem change my life?

If you have sleep apnea, it may already have affected you more than you know. Your quality of sleep, and therefore quality of life, will improve with improved sleep patterns and increased oxygen supply to your brain and rest of your body. The benefits of quality sleep will be seen in improving the physical, emotional and psychological aspects of an individual’s life.

Sleep Apnea and Treatment options

Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

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