Sleep Apnea, literally meaning “without breath” in Greek, is the cessation of breathing for 10 seconds or more while sleeping.
During sleep apnea, oxygen levels drop while carbon dioxide levels build. If this happened only occasionally, it might not be as alarming and detrimental to the sleeper’s health. But the reality for some individuals is that it can and does happen hundreds of times per night, making it hard to get any sleep at all.
Untreated sleep apnea can make you more likely to suffer illness or injury. It has been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even death. If this is happening while you are sleeping, how do you know if this is happening to you?
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is characterized by complete airway obstruction. It often is found, but not limited to, older, overweight men, but also affects significant percentages of women and children as well. If someone in your family has OSA, you will be more likely also to have it.
The serious and life-threatening problems start when sleepers begin experiencing apneas, where breathing stops, and hypopneas, where breathing is shallow due to an obstruction. Breathing is usually blocked in the back of the throat because:
• The tongue and muscles relax during sleep.
• The lower jaw falls back toward the throat.
• The airway becomes blocked.
A typical sequence of OSA occurs when a person stops snoring and is silent for seconds, or minutes. The body’s oxygen level drops and the blood pressure rises. This causes the sleeper to wake briefly and begin breathing. Once asleep again, the muscles relax and the airway becomes blocked, cutting off the airway again. This cycle can occur hundreds of times per night.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. It ranges in severity from mild to moderate, to severe. Other forms of sleep apnea include Central and Mixed Sleep Apnea.