What is Sleep Apnea?
The airway from the nose down into the lungs is a sensitive mechanism. When awake, the muscles in the airway keep it open and allow us to breathe normally.
When we sleep, and especially in dream sleep (REM), the muscles relax. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the softer tissues of the upper airway collapse and close off the airway. A relatively small collapse can cause snoring and generally increases the required breathing effort.
Full closure of the airway may prevent breathing for extended periods, or until the brain detects the hazardous state and temporarily wakes up, allowing you to gasp for air. These arousals are generally too short for one to remember in the morning.
Snoring is a milder form of sleep-disordered breathing. Individuals suffering from untreated sleep apnea generally snore loudly. However, not all snorers have sleep apnea. Snoring can be very disruptive both for the snorer and for the bed partner.
Sleep and Breathing
Normal breathing is absolutely critical to the restorative process that sleep provides, allowing you to wake up refreshed. Breathing disorders during sleep, or sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), affect one out of 10 people that you know, similar to the prevalence of asthma. It is a serious medical condition that requires immediate treatment in order to avoid the inevitable consequences of the disease. The most common form of SDB is sleep apnea.
Signs and Symptoms
One or more of the following symptoms are indications of sleep-disordered breathing:
- Pauses in breathing during sleep
- Loud snoring
- Choking or gasping during sleep
- Memory, learning, and concentration problems
- Mood swings, irritability, or depression
Weight Gain & Type 2 Diabetes
Individuals suffering from untreated SDB often develop insulin resistance, which prevents them from losing weight. Research shows that up to 65 percent of individuals with Type 2 diabetes suffer from SDB, and that treating the breathing disorder often allows for weight reduction and a healthier life.
Causes Increased Blood Pressure & Heart Disease
Sleep is one of the primary mechanisms for blood pressure control. When it is disrupted, it loses that function causing excessive strain on the heart and vessels. SDB is strongly linked to hypertension, a chronic increase in blood pressure. People suffering from SDB are much more likely to develop hypertension. Research shows that 65 percent of individuals with hypertension also have SDB, and up to 85 percent of the individuals that do not respond to blood pressure medications may have SDB. Heart diseases and sudden nocturnal death are also strongly linked to SDB.
Increased Risk of Stroke
Patients that have had a stroke are very likely to get sleep apnea, and individuals suffering from SDB are at an increased risk of having a stroke due to the increased strain put on the vessels in the brain.