What is Sleep Apnea?

Have you ever woken up with the feeling of short of breath or gasping for air?

Or maybe you snorted yourself awake? It's easy to laugh it off, however, there may be an underlying sleeping condition causing you to snort.

It is called Sleep Apnea and we are going to explore this sleeping disorder in detail in our sleeping disorder series.

If you are unsure if you have a sleeping disorder you can take our QUIZ to see if you are exhibiting any of the common symptoms.

What exactly is Sleep Apnea?

Snoring, restless sleep and waking up feeling like you haven't slept are all symptoms of sleep apnea, a serious condition in which breathing is frequently interrupted during sleep.  For people with this common disorder, breathing is paused for up to 10 seconds, causing them to jolt from deep sleep just enough to take a deep breath, only to fall back asleep again and so the cycle continues. According to World Sleep Day, depending on the severity, this can happen a few times up to a hundred times a night.

When this occurs repeatedly through the night, it can take a toll on your physical and emotional well-being. Persistent lack of quality sleep from sleep apnea can lead to daytime sleepiness, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability and an increased risk of accidents. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute found Sleep Apnea can also increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and chronic kidney disease. 

Sleep Apnea can cause many health side effects

Types of Sleep Apnea 

Sleep apnea occurs where there is an airway obstruction or a disconnect between the brain and the body.

Of the types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common. It's characterised by the airway becoming blocked or partially blocked during the night causing difficulty in breathing.

diagram of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

A less common type of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea which occurs when the brain doesn't signal your body to take a breath. Central sleep apnea doesn't usually give rise to snoring so can sometimes be left unnoticed or untreated.

Mixed (or complex) sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

What are the symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

If you have a bedtime partner, you may be told that you snore or you have stopped breathing during sleep.

Signs of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Loud and chronic snoring
  • Choking, snorting or gasping for air during sleep
  • Pauses in breathing while sleeping
  • Insomnia

Other symptoms include:

  • Morning headache
  • Awakening with a dry mouth
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Irritability, moodiness or depressed mood
  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure

What are the causes of sleep apnea?

Sleep apnoea can affect anyone at any age, including children. Being overweight is one of the most common contributing factors. This is because fatty tissue can cause the throat to narrow and make it more difficult to breathe at night.

Other risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea include:  

  • Being male. Men are two to three times more likely to have sleep apnea compared to females. 
  • Being middle-aged or older.
  • Those with a family history of sleep apnea.
  • Physical attributes such as a narrow airway including those with a larger neck circumference. 
  • Enlarged tonsils or adenoids, particularly in children.
  • Allergies or other medical conditions that cause nasal congestion and blockage can also contribute to sleep apnea
  • Use of alcohol or sedatives which can relax the muscles in  the throat
  • Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than are people who've never smoked. Smoking increases the amount of inflammation in the upper airway.

Like obstructive sleep apnea, men and middle-aged people are more likely to suffer from central sleep apnea. Other risk factors for central sleep apnea include:

  • Certain pain medications such as opioids and narcotic can reduce your urge to breathe
  • Existing medical conditions. Serious illnesses like stroke, heart disease, neurological disease, or spinal or brainstem injury can affect your normal breathing reflexes or affects parts of the brain controlling breathing. 

The first step in treating central sleep apnea is to treat the existing medical conditions that are causing it.

So where to from here?

So now that it looks like you are exhibiting some of the symptoms, what do you do now?

In the next article in our Sleep Apnea series, we take a look at possible cures for Sleep Apnea and answer the question CAN SLEEP APNEA BE CURED?

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The contents of Sleep Quizzz are for informational and educational purposes only. It is intended to be a tool for our readers to use for self-assessment. Nothing found on our website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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