Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. More than 18 million adults suffer from sleep apnea in the United States. The condition can lead to heart disease, stroke, mood disturbances, and more.
A doctor or sleep specialist can determine if you suffer from sleep apnea and recommend an effective treatment that suits your physical needs and your lifestyle.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that is characterized by frequent breathing pauses during sleep, sometimes occurring several times an hour and lasting more than 10 seconds. This can move the sleeper out of deep sleep and cause sleep loss. There are three types of sleep apnea, each with its own symptoms and causes.
An accurate diagnosis and effective treatment are essential to prevent sleep deprivation and other long-term sleep apnea risks.
What are the Three Types of Sleep Apnea?
There are three types of sleep apnea. These include:
- Obstructive sleep apnea: The most common form of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by frequent pauses in breathing during sleep. It occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax during slumber and block the airway.
- Central sleep apnea: This type of sleep apnea involves pauses in breathing during sleep caused by a signal disruption from the central nervous system. Central sleep apnea is linked to lower levels of oxygen saturation, a condition known as hypoxia or hypoxemia, which can lead to serious health problems.
- Positional sleep apnea: When the majority of apneic episodes can be attributed to sleep position, it is referred to as positional sleep apnea. When you lie flat on your back (known as the supine sleep position), the size and shape of your upper airway is altered. Combined with gravity, this position increases the likelihood of the airway being obstructed.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
The causes of sleep apnea vary, depending on the type of sleep apnea being discussed.
- Obstructive sleep apnea: This is caused by an airway blockage that occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax during sleep.
- Central sleep apnea: This type of sleep apnea is caused by disruptions to signals from the central nervous system.
- Positional sleep apnea: This is caused by sleeping in a certain position at night, typically the supine position (lying flat on the back).
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Loud, chronic snoring
- Periods of stopped breathing during sleep
- Gasping and snorting during sleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Night sweats
- Memory problems
- Irritability and mood swings
- Waking up with a sore throat and dry mouth
- Morning headaches
- Chronic high blood pressure
- Decreased sexual libido
Symptoms of central sleep apnea include:
- Periods of abnormal and stopped breathing during sleep
- Gasping or snorting during sleep
- Shortness of breath in the night that is relieved when sitting up
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Irritability and mood swings
- Concentration and memory problems
- Morning headaches
- Chest pain at night
- Reduced tolerance for exercise
Sleep Apnea Treatments
There are a variety of potential sleep apnea treatments. These include:
- CPAP: One of the most common treatments for obstructive sleep apnea is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). A CPAP machine keeps airways open during sleep with the use of air pressure. The machine blows air through a hose that is connected to a CPAP mask that is worn throughout the night.
- Mouthpieces and dental devices: Sleep apnea mouthguards work by moving the jaw forward. They increase the size of the upper airway and reduce the air resistance that causes snoring and sleep apnea.
- Surgery: There are a number of surgical procedures that can either directly treat your sleep apnea, or help you tolerate positive airway pressure treatments more easily.
What are the Complications of Sleep Apnea?
People with sleep apnea have an increased risk for the following:
- Heart attack: Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to increased arterial stiffness and reduce heart rate variability, raising the risk of a heart attack.
- Stroke: Sleep apnea can increase blood pressure. Eventually, the blood pressure rise that occurs during the night may continue into the daytime, leading to hypertension, a risk factor for stroke.
- Type 2 diabetes: Sleep apnea increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, 71% of people with type 2 diabetes also suffer from sleep apnea.
- Driving accidents: Sleep apnea results in poor sleep quality, which in turn leads to excessive daytime sleepiness. Sleep deprivation is a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents.
Contact Us Today
If you believe you may have sleep apnea, your first step is to get an accurate diagnosis of the condition. A sleep specialist can diagnose sleep apnea based on a physical examination, your symptom history, and the results of a sleep apnea test.