Sleep apnea is a condition caused by repeated temporary stopping of breathing by one who is asleep. Closely related, and often occurring simultaneously, is snoring. That’s because this particular type of loud, very nasal snoring is caused by sleep apnea.
Officially, once breathing stops for at least ten seconds at a time, and happens five times or more within an hour, the diagnosis is sleep apnea. This frequent stoppage of breathing leads to low oxygen levels in the body, which can cause other, more serious, health conditions.
Most susceptible to sleep apnea are those who are overweight, smokers, alcohol drinkers, and residents of high-altitude locations. Imagine, then, if you are an overweight smoker and drinker who lives someplace high above sea level!
The two major types of sleep apnea are “obstructive” sleep apnea and “central” sleep apnea. Obstructive apnea, as its name would imply, occurs when there is some type of obstruction in the breathing passages, most often in the sinuses or nasal cavity. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs most often in men aged 40 to 60 who live with one or more of the conditions mentioned above.
This obstruction usually occurs when the pharynx (the soft tissues of the throat) become relaxed accordingly block the breathing passages. Oxygen levels within the body fall until the person is sharply awakened by taking a deep breath, often accompanied by loud snorts, rasps, or other snoring-related noises. This condition can be made worse if the person carries excess weight around the neck, or if he has a large tongue in a small mouth.
Similarly, children who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea are limited in the oxygen their bodies are taking in. This is often caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoid glands.
A far less common type of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea. In those cases, the part of the central nervous system that controls breathing is not functioning properly, leading to impaired breathing. It is often brought on by damage following a stroke or other brain injury.
The symptoms of sleep apnea are common between the types, but remember that the obstructive variety is far more common. Those symptoms include tiredness throughout the day, lack of concentration or poor memory, headaches (especially in the morning), male impotence, and frequent nighttime urination.
Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to more serious problems like heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) and high blood pressure – especially around the lungs. If it become severe, sleep apnea can be life-threatening.
Many people who have problems with snoring should seek the advice of a licensed physician, as it can be the more serious problem of sleep apnea. There are tests doctors can do to determine if this is what you are suffering from. If you get your apnea diagnosed and treated, not only will you improve the quality of your sleep, you will improve the quality of your life.