Sleep apnea is a common disorder that can be very serious. In sleep apnea, your breathing stops or gets very shallow while you are sleeping. Each pause in breathing typically lasts 10 to 20 seconds or more. These pauses can occur 20 to 30 times or more an hour.
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. During sleep, enough air cannot flow into your lungs through your mouth and noseeven though you try to breathe. When this happens, the amount of oxygen in your blood may drop. Normal breaths then start again with a loud snort or choking sound.
When this happens, the amount of oxygen in your blood may drop. NormaWhen your sleep is upset throughout the night, you can be very sleepy during the day. With sleep apnea, your sleep is not restful because:
- These brief episodes of increased airway resistance (and breathing pauses) occur many times.
- You may have many brief drops in the oxygen levels in your blood.
- You move out of deep sleep and into light sleep several times during the night, resulting in poor sleep quality. l breaths then start again with a loud snort or choking sound.
What causes sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea happens when enough air cannot move into your lungs while you are sleeping. When you are awake, and normally during sleep, your throat muscles keep your throat open and air flows into your lungs. In obstructive sleep apnea, however, the throat briefly collapses, causing pauses in your breathing. With pauses in breathing, the oxygen level in your blood may drop. This happens if the following conditions occur:
- Your throat muscles and tongue relax more than is normal.
- Your tonsils and adenoids are large.
- You are overweight. The extra soft tissue in your throat makes it harder to keep the throat area open.
- The shape of your head and neck (bony structure) results in somewhat smaller airway size in the mouth and throat area.
What are the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea?
The most common signs of sleep apnea are:
- Loud snoring
- Choking or gasping during sleep
- Fighting sleepiness during the day (even at work or while driving)
Your family members may notice the symptoms before you do. Otherwise, you will likely not be aware that you have problems breathing while you are asleep.
Others signs of sleep apnea may include:
- Morning headaches
- Memory or learning problems
- Feeling irritable
- Not being able to concentrate on your work
- Mood swings or personality changes; perhaps feeling depressed
- Dry throat when you wake up
- Frequent urination at night
Published: June 29, 2010