By Andrew V.V.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that carries potentially serious health problems along with it. Essentially, this disorder is best defined as when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. For most people, breathing is interrupted dozens of times each night, and not simply one or two times.
Sleep apnea is caused by muscles in the back of the throat relaxing. These muscles are responsible for supporting the soft palate, the tonsils, and the tongue. In some cases, people are not even aware that their breathing is stopping periodically throughout the night unless they have a partner who is able to alert them to the problem.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are two basic types of sleep apnea: Central Sleep Apnea and Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
With Central Sleep Apnea, airways are not blocked but the brain does not send a signal to the muscles to breathe because of instability in the respiratory control center.
With Obstructive Sleep Apnea, airways are blocked, usually because the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
The most common symptoms of sleep apnea are snoring and feeling tired even after a full night of sleep. Other symptoms include:
- Observed episodes of breathing cessation while sleeping
- Excessive sleepiness during daytime hours
- Very loud snoring (most common with Obstructive Sleep Apnea)
- Headaches in the morning
- Waking abruptly, accompanied by shortness of breath
- Problems staying asleep
- Dry mouth or sore throat upon waking
The risk factors for developing sleep apnea are fairly consistent, but it is important to realize that this disorder can affect anyone regardless of sex or age. People who have the following are at an increased risk for developing this disorder, however:
- Family history of sleep apnea
- Over the age of 40
- Being male
- Larger tonsils
- Large neck size (greater than 17 inches in men; 16 inches in women)
Learning to recognize whether you are at risk for developing sleep apnea is a huge part of being able to successfully treat it. Left untreated, it can lead to a host of other serious health problems.
- Cardiovascular problems – sleep apnea increases a person’s risk for having a stroke or high blood pressure. Additionally, people who have heart disease and sleep apnea run the risk of suffering from a sudden cardiac event that could prove to be fatal.
- Complications with surgery or medications – people with sleep apnea are far more likely to suffer complications after surgery. It is very important that people with this condition talk to their doctor prior to any type of surgical procedure, as undiagnosed sleep apnea is extremely dangerous, particularly in this type of situation.
- Fatigue during daytime hours – waking up constantly throughout the night has an end result of making a person feel exhausted. People who wake up throughout the night are often irritable, moody, and have difficulty concentrating. If it goes on long enough, lack of restful sleep can lead to other health problems.