Sleep apnea is a condition in which there are brief periods during sleep in which your airway relaxes and you do not get enough air to your lungs . Sleep Apnea is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition and is far more common than generally understood.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common and is caused by a collapse of soft tissue in the rear of the throat creating a temporary blockage in the airway. The result is that the person can stop breathing for anywhere from 10 seconds to 90 seconds or more, with events recurring up to 100 times an hour in the most severe cases.
What Are The Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
Often, the patient is not the one who complains to the physician about sleep apnea, but rather the bed partner. This is because sleep apnea is most often associated with such loud snoring and evident pauses in breathing that it annoys and/or frightens the spouse. Symptoms the patient may notice include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (falling asleep easily & sometimes inappropriately)
- Morning headaches
- History of high blood pressure
- Memory problems or poor judgment
- Feelings of depression
- Gastro-esophageal reflux (heartburn)
- Nocturia (frequent night time urination)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Personality changes or irritability
What Makes Sleep Apnea Dangerous?
When breathing stops, oxygen levels in the blood drops and causes a strain on the heart and lungs. Fortunately, when the brain notices this drop, it sends a fight or flight signal to the body that there is trouble and a strong signal to resume breathing. This action causes a brief but often unnoticeable arousal from sleep.
With these disruptions, the body is not able to go into the deeper stages of sleep which include REM sleep where dreaming occurs and Delta Sleep which is Restorative sleep. The result is that the sufferer will wake up the next day still feeling tired, and may experience morning headaches as a result of the decreased oxygen .
Are There Other Consequences?
The most immediate effect of sleep apnea is the daytime fatigue and risk of falling asleep at work or while driving. Other potential effects of sleep apnea include serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes and stroke. It can also lead to depression, irritability, sexual dysfunction, learning and memory difficulties. Studies show that up to 50 percent of sleep apnea sufferers have high blood pressure. Studies show that up to 70% of sleep apnea sufferers have diabetes.
What Are The Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea?
- Family history
- Excess weight
- Large neck size greater than 17"
- Recessed chin
- Abnormalities in the structure of the upper airway
- High Blood Pressure
- Alcohol use
How Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
In the past, OSA was diagnosed by spending a night in facility based sleep lab, called a polysomnography or PSG. A PSG records multiple biophysiological signals throughout the night after sensors have been applied over much of the body. In addition to being able to tell if you have sleep apnea, a PSG can tell what percentage of time you are spending in each stage of sleep (which is a measure of how efficiently you are sleeping) and whether you have other, more rare disorders such as a sleep movement disorder or narcolepsy.
Your physician can also determine if you have sleep apnea symptoms by asking you a series of sleep related questions. Based on the score of these questions, he or she can order a Home Sleep Test or HST. The advantage of the HST is that you are being recorded in your own bed, so it is more likely to reflect what actually happens each night. It is also significantly less expensive and more convenient.