Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person repeatedly stops breathing or takes shallow breaths while sleeping. Each pause in breathing, called an apnea, can last from seconds to minutes. These pauses may occur 5 to 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snorting or choking sound. Sleep apnea usually is a chronic (ongoing) condition that disrupts your sleep. When your breathing pauses or becomes shallow, you’ll often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep. As a result, the quality of your sleep is poor, which makes you tired during the day.
Sleep apnea is one of the leading causes of excessive daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea is common in adults, but it can occur in children. It affects people of all ages and genders, but it’s more common in men and people who are overweight. obesity is a major risk factor for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs more often in Blacks and Latinos than in whites.
There are three types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type, is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
- Central sleep apnea, which is less common, occurs when your brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles that control your breathing.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome, or mixed sleep apnea, is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea. Sleep apnea usually is a chronic (ongoing) condition that disrupts your sleep.
When your breathing pauses or becomes shallow, you’ll often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep. As a result, the quality of your sleep is poor, which makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is one of the leading causes of excessive daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea is diagnosed with an overnight sleep test called a polysomnogram, or sleep study. A sleep study records your sleep patterns, the quality of your sleep, and how much time you spend in each stage of sleep. The test also monitors your heart, lung, and brain activity, as well as your eye and leg movements.
There are two types of sleep studies:
- In-lab sleep studies are conducted at a sleep center. You’ll spend the night in a comfortable room that’s equipped with monitoring equipment.
- Home sleep studies are conducted using portable monitoring equipment that you use in your own home. Your doctor may recommend a home sleep study if you have mild sleep apnea or if you can’t tolerate an in-lab sleep study.
Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can have many complications, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Left untreated, sleep apnea can increase your risk of developing these conditions. It can also lead to accidents and injuries due to drowsy driving. If you think you might have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor. He or she can refer you to a sleep specialist for diagnosis and treatment. Treatment for sleep apnea often starts with lifestyle changes, such as:
- Losing weight
- Sleeping on your side
- Avoiding alcohol and smoking
If these changes don’t work, your doctor may recommend a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. A CPAP machine is a mask-like device that fits over your nose and mouth. The mask is connected to a machine that gently blows air into your airway to keep it open. Surgery is an option for some people with sleep apnea. Surgery can be done to remove excess tissue from the airway or to widen the airway. Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can have many complications. If you think you might have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor.
"Sleep apnea is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that is far more common than most people realize. According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and the condition is thought to be under-diagnosed. Sleep apnea occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep. This can happen hundreds of times a night and can lead to loud snoring and gasping for breath. Sleep apnea can have serious consequences, including high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, and even death. It is also a major contributing factor to accidents and errors at work. If you think you might have sleep apnea, it's important to see a doctor for a diagnosis. There are treatments available that can help, and the sooner you get started, the better." -Pedram Shojai