What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by complete or partial interruptions of breathing during sleep. These interruptions, called apneas, can cause a host of other dangerous medical conditions. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common form, 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 (CSA) occurs when the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of these two conditions.
Snoring, while inconvenient and bothersome for sleepers and their bed partners, may also be an indicator of sleep apnea and carry serious medical consequences.
Snoring is caused by a narrowing of the air passage from the mouth to the lungs. The more the
airway is obstructed, the louder the snoring becomes. Snoring typically worsens with age as the
muscles in the throat become less rigid and more likely to block the airway.
Other factors that worsen snoring are menopause, smoking, alcohol and sedative use, being
overweight, and genetic predispositions. The National Sleep Foundation concluded that about
one third of
U.S. working adults reported snoring at least a few nights each month, and it is as common in
women as men. Many who regularly snore don’t realize that it could be bad for their health.
Snoring & Sleep Apnea
In many people, the airway can become so narrow that it actually closes and breathing stops completely, a condition known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). These pauses in breathing (called apneas) can last anywhere from 10 seconds to 2 minutes.
During apneas, snoring stops and the sleeper is silent. When the brain registers that the person is not breathing, it jolts the individual out of sleep, at which point the sleeper will wake up gasping or choking.
The person will typically fall back asleep with no memory of being woken up, which makes sleep apnea difficult to recognize. The condition is typically identified by spouses or family members who witness heavy snoring and pauses in breathing.
Poor Sleep & Heart Problems
As a result of repeatedly being woken up throughout the night, the person fails to sustain deep sleep and may feel tired throughout the day. Over time, the heart also weakens because it endures stress every time the body is jolted awake.
The combination of poor sleep and cardiovascular stress predisposes obstructive sleep apnea patients to a range of diseases including obesity, hypertension, stroke, memory problems, mood disturbance, difficulty concentrating, anxiety and depression.
Obstructive sleep apnea has a long list of symptoms. People with sleep apnea are prone to dozing off while at work, while driving or even during conversations. Sleep apnea sufferers are up to six times as likely to get into repeated auto accidents. Other, often overlooked, symptoms include
Individuals with unexplained symptoms such as those described above should get evaluated for obstructive sleep
WHAT TO DO
Most doctors don’t routinely ask patients about the quality of their sleep, giving the impression that it is not an important health factor, but proper sleep is critical to good health. If you or someone you know exhibits snoring or other symptoms of sleep disturbance, call our office about getting tested for sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea has both immediate health consequences and long-term complications due to cardiovascular stress and persistent sleep disturbance.
The immediate consequences of untreated sleep apnea include:
Long-term complications include:
The decline of quality sleep leads to chronic fatigue throughout the day. Sleepiness can affect quality of life, motivation, and raise one’s risk of injury while at work or driving. Those with sleep apnea are 2-3 times more likely to get into an auto accident and 5-7 times more likely to get into multiple accidents. Untreated sleep apnea sufferers also display irritability,mood changes, and depression. Individuals with mild sleep apnea are twice as likely to have depression as compared to those without. Those with moderate to severe sleep apnea are 2.6 times as likely to have depression.
The main risk factors that increase the risk of sleep apnea are:
Males, who typically have higher BMI than females, are three times as likely to have sleep apnea.
As muscles weaken with age, the chances of obstruction increase. Adults between 40 and 60 years old are at significantly greater risk for sleep apnea.
More than half of sleep apnea sufferers are overweight. It’s believed that fat deposits narrow the airway, making it more prone to obstruction. Ninety percent of morbidly obese individuals suffer from sleep apnea.
A wide neck
Wide necks are indicators of obesity. Men with neck circumferences of 17” or greater and women with neck circumferences of 16” or greater are at more considerable risk to acquire sleep apnea.
High blood pressure.
Untreated hypertension increases one’s risk of having sleep apnea.