Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that seriously impacts sleep negatively. It can occur in children, seniors, and anyone at any age. The number of times a person with sleep apnea may stop breathing — for up to a minute at a time — can vary greatly, ranging from around five times per hour to as many as 100 or more times per hour.
People with sleep apnea often snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep. When they wake up, most sleep apnea patients do not remember having stopped breathing during the night. Sadly, most patients are unaware of their condition because it takes place during their sleep.
Three Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
The most common type is caused by a blockage of the airway due to a relaxation of the throat muscles during sleep. This causes the airway to collapse when you breathe in. It then takes a few seconds for you to regain consciousness and for your brain to signal your muscles to open the airway and let air in again.
Central Sleep Apnea
This happens when the brain stem can’t control breathing properly. This means that the brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles that control breathing (the diaphragm). As a result, people with CSA have shallow and slow breathing during their sleep.
Mixed Sleep Apnea
Also called Complex Sleep Apnea, this is a less common type of apnea that combines Obstructive Sleep Apnea with Central Sleep Apnea.
The severity of sleep apnea is classified by the Apnea Hypopnea Index (AHI). The AHI is a value between 0 and 10 that indicates the number of apneas and hypopneas (sudden pauses in breathing) per hour of sleep.
What Causes Sleep Apnea ?
Studies suggest that a combination of genetic, environmental, and dietary factors may play a role in the development of sleep apnea. The risk of sleep apnea may be higher in people with a family history of the condition.
To some degree, other health conditions can affect the severity of sleep apnea. It is common for people with severe sleep apnea to have one or more associated disorders, such as heart disease or high blood pressure.
Men are more likely than women to have obstructive sleep apnea.
Weight is also a frequent cause of sleep apnea.
Certain medications, including some heart drugs and some antidepressants, can also make you more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea. Opioid use can also trigger central sleep apnea.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Many people with mild sleep apnea don’t even realize they have it. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it is recommended that you talk to your primary care physician or a sleep specialist:
- Experiencing repeated episodes of breathing problems during sleep. This can include difficulty breathing, pauses in your breathing, and snoring.
- Finding it difficult to stay asleep or wake up feeling refreshed after a night of sleep.
- Experiencing daytime fatigue, excessive daytime sleepiness or drowsiness despite not being sleepy at night.
- Having a partner or doctor noticing that you have a lot of interruptions in your breathing during the night.
- Having any of the other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, obesity, or diabetes.
How Can I Find Out If I Have Sleep Apnea?
While our 1-minute OSA online test can tell you if you’re likely at risk of having OSA, only a supervised sleep test (polysomnography) can diagnose and confirm the severity of a patient’s symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
If you have any of the sleep apnea symptoms, you should notify your primary care physician. Only then will your doctor be able to recommend a sleep study.
Polysomnography is considered the gold standard for sleep studies. It involves collecting and analyzing a variety of information about your sleep patterns during a specific time period—usually, during an overnight stay in a sleep lab. Although polysomnography is considered the most accurate type of sleep test, it’s not always covered by US health insurance companies.
In the case of Central Sleep Apnea, your doctor may request a brain or brain stem imaging.
What Are Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disorder of the upper airway that can reduce the quality and duration of sleep. For men in particular, it increases the risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack and stroke by as much as 50%.
A lot of the risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea are the same as for heart disease. This includes age, race, gender and family history of the condition. Other risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Weight. If you are overweight, losing excess weight can help reduce your risk of OSA.
- Smoking. Smoking is another major risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea.
What Are Risk Factors for Central Sleep Apnea?
You’re more likely to develop central sleep apnea (CSA) if you have the following factors:
- Sex: Males are more prone than females to develop CSA).
- Age: CSA is more common in elderly people, especially those over the age of 65, probably because they have additional medical disorders or sleep habits that make them more susceptible to the illness.)
- Heart problems: Central sleep apnea is more common in those who have irregular heartbeats (atrial fibrillation) or whose heart muscles don’t pump enough blood for the body’s needs (congestive heart failure).
- A stroke, a brain tumor, or a structural brain stem damage are all possibilities. The brain’s ability to regulate respiration can be harmed by several diseases.
- CPAP use: While employing continuous positive airway pressure, some persons with obstructive sleep apnea acquire CSA (CPAP). This syndrome is the result of a combination of obstructive and central sleep apneas. It normally subsides with regular use of a CPAP machine.)
- High elevation, Opioid use will also put you at higher risk of Central Sleep Apnea
What are the available treatments for sleep apnea?
The most popular and effective treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea is to use a Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) machine at night. These machines are placed alongside your bed, and a plastic tube links the machine to a face mask that you wear. While you sleep, the machine forces pressured air into your airway, keeping it from closing. While some people struggle to sleep with a CPAP machine, others adjust rather well. If your doctor prescribes CPAP therapy, they can help you choose a mask, machine, and pressure setting that is right for you.
NOTE: If you are experiencing difficulty or require assistance in configuring or adjusting your CPAP machine or mask, please contact ASAA at 888-293-3650.
Another device-based treatment involves wearing a dental appliance while sleeping that raises and forwards the lower jaw, helping to keep the airway open.
Behavioral and Lifestyle Changes:
- Weight loss.
- Sleeping on your side rather than your back.
- No alcohol intake at night.
- Tonsil and/or adenoids removal surgery.
- Surgical procedure that modifies the structure of the mouth and nose.
- Surgery that interacts with and stimulates the nerve that leads to their tongue, causing the tongue to push forward.
What are the risks of untreated sleep apnea?
The risks of untreated sleep apnea are numerous and include:
- Higher risk of various cardiovascular disorders including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, AFib and stroke. In studies, people with untreated sleep apnea have a 2- to 3-fold increased risk of dying from cardiovascular causes (such as heart attack or stroke) compared to people without the condition.
- Increased risk of developing diabetes. People with untreated sleep apnea are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop type II diabetes than people without the condition.
- Increased risk of obesity. In addition to their increased risk of developing type II diabetes, people with untreated sleep apnea are also more likely to become obese.
If you think you, your child, or a loved one may have sleep apnea, today is a great day to plan seeing a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan.