What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts resulting in low oxygen levels in blood.  Sleep apnea can cause you to wake up frequently throughout the night, but many sufferers claim they do not recall this restlessness the following morning. It also causes sleepiness and drowsiness during the day which can increase the risk of sleep deprivation related accidents and illness.  Furthermore, sleep apnea is associated with depression, reduced quality of life, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, strokes, hypertension and cardiovascular mortality.  That’s quite a long list, which is why if you do experience some of the symptoms, like snoring loudly or feeling tired even after a full night's sleep, you should bring it to the attention of a medical professional.

Sleep apnea is characterized by a stopping and starting of breathing.  Episodes of not breathing can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. And this stop, start can happen up to 30 times or sometimes even more per hour. For most suffering from sleep apnea, breathing stops when the airway collapses, blocking the flow of air to and from the lungs. In a lesser number of people with the condition, the episodes result from a communication problem with the brain and how it controls breathing. There are two main types of sleep apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea:  the more common type occurring when throat muscles relax. Central sleep apnea:  less common type, occurs when your brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

The risk factors for sleep apnea include excess weight, having a neck circumference greater than 17 inches, high blood pressure, narrowed airway, being male, being older, having a family history, use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers, smoking, and prolonged sitting.

The symptoms include chronic snoring, sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, sexual dysfunction, and learning and memory difficulties.

Tests and Diagnosis

·       Nocturnal polysomnography. During this test, you're hooked up to equipment that monitors your heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels while you sleep.

·       Home sleep tests. These tests usually involve measuring your heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow and breathing patterns.

Treatment for obstructive sleep apnea

·       Therapies

o   Continuous positive airway pressure

o   Other airway pressure devices

o   Expiratory positive airway pressure

o   Oral appliances

·       Surgery

o   Tissue removal

o   Jaw repositioning

o   Implants

o   Tracheostomy (creating a new air passageway)

Treatment for central and complex sleep apnea

·       Therapies

o   Treatment for associated medical problems

o   Supplemental oxygen

o   Adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV)

o   Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)

o   Bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP)