What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a relatively common medical condition which is characterized by shallow breathing or pauses in breathing during sleep. Different patients experience this condition for different reasons, and also to different severity. Some patients only stop breathing for a few seconds, while other may stop breathing for a few minutes, and actually shock themselves awake with a choking or snorting response which leads them to gasp for air. In extreme cases, breathing may stop thirty times in an hour, or even more.
For most patients, Sleep Apnea is a chronic condition which has a devastating effect upon sleep quality. This is because changes in breathing pattern alter sleeping patterns as well. In order to get a good night's sleep, we need to spend a certain length of time in deep sleep, and sleep apnea causes patients to experience reduced sleep quality, owing to reduced time spent in deep sleep.
Because sleep apnea inhibits sleep quality, one of the most common symptoms is daytime fatigue and exhaustion, because the body never recovers its sleep debt, no matter how long that the patient remains asleep.
Why Is Sleep Apnea Bad?
Sleep Apnea is a major problem, not only for its impact on sleep quality, but because it is one of the most commonly undiagnosed disorders, because it occurs as one sleeps, and many patients don't even realize they suffer from the condition. There is also no way to diagnose sleep apnea via blood testing, and the condition cannot be diagnosed through a normal doctor's appointment. Often, it is not the patient that recognizes his or her sleep apnea, but a sleeping partner, member of the family, or roommate.
Although Sleep Apnea has many causes, most patients with this condition suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. In the case of this obstructive sleep apnea, airways shrink or temporarily close during sleep, which leads to pauses in breathing, or breathing which is too shallow to meet the needs of the sleeping patient.
Snoring Most Common Symptom of Sleep Apnea
Because of this blockage, one of the most recognizable symptoms of sleep apnea is heavy snoring. Because the airway is partially blocked, the air reacts with flaps in the nose and throat, making the signature sound. This condition can occur to anyone, but patients that are obese or overweight are most likely to experience the condition.
A minority of sleep apnea patients suffer from central sleep apnea. This is a sleep-breathing disorder caused by miscalibrated signaling from the brain. The part of the brain which is in control of breathing malfunctions during sleep, leading to pauses in breathing. Most commonly, this condition is a symptom of other conditions, or the use of particular medications. These patients also rarely experience snoring.
What Are Common Risks Associated with Sleep Apnea?
Elevated Risk of Wrecks and Workplace Accidents resulting from exhaustion
Human Growth Hormone Deficiency
Elevated Risk of Heart Failure and Cardiovascular Disease
Elevated Risk of Diabetes, Obesity, Stroke, Heart Attack, and Hypertension
Elevated Cortisol Level
What Are the Causes of Sleep Apnea?
The reason why Sleep Apnea can't be diagnosed in a normal doctor's visit is because breathing works differently while we are awake. For example, the throat muscles remain firm, leaving the airway unimpeded from the nose and mouth to the lungs. After you fall asleep, the muscles become more relaxed, which shrinks the airway. Also, while we are awake, we can consciously regulate breathing to an extent, whereas, while we sleep, the brain self-regulates breathing.
There are a number of physiological issues that can lead to Obstructive Sleep Apnea:
Aging increases the risk of sleep apnea, as the subconscious brain sometimes weakens its signal to keep throat muscles tight
Some patients have bone structures in the neck and head which naturally restrict airways
Obesity can cause sleep apnea, because soft tissue puts pressure on the windpipe during sleep, leading to trouble breathing during sleep
Abnormally large tonsils and tongue
Muscles of the tongue and throat relax too much, obstructing the opening of the throat
What is the Direct Physiological Effect of Sleep Apnea?
Because sleep apnea obstructs breathing, the lungs don't absorb enough oxygen, which leads to oxygen deprivation. The reason why patients wake up abruptly is because, when oxygen levels in the blood drop below a certain concentration, it causes the brain to signal the sleeping patient to awake in order to restore oxygen flow. The body responds to this signal by suddenly tightening muscles in the mouth and throat.
Because the body isn't getting enough oxygen during sleep, this vastly increases the risk of cardiovascular issues, including arrhythmia, stroke, heart attack, and hypertension. It also triggers the release of fight-or-flight hormones such as cortisol, which can cause adrenal fatigue, as the body is producing an exceptionally high level of stress hormones. This also saps the body of resources necessary to produce sex hormones such as Testosterone and Estrogen, as well as Human Growth Hormone, which impedes health and wellness and can accelerate issues associated with aging.
Sleep Apnea also has a depressant effect upon metabolism, which causes the patient to be more likely to gain weight, and also increases the risk of diabetes. Often, patients with obesity actually suffer from the condition largely because of their underlying sleep apnea, which in turn causes sleep apnea to exacerbate.
What Individuals Are Most Likely to Experience Sleep Apnea?
Around 50% of patients with sleep apnea are overweight or obese
Both women and men experience sleep apnea, but men are at an elevated risk
Risk of sleep apnea increases with age
Heredity plays a role in sleep apnea
Some individuals have airway structures that naturally lead them to be predisposed to sleep apnea
Smokers are more likely to experience sleep apnea
What are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
The most noticeable symptom of sleep apnea is chronic snoring. Because airways are partially or completely blocked, this leads to loud snoring, and also may lead the patient to become shocked awake resulting from lack of oxygen.
The amplitude of snoring associated with sleep apnea is often dependent upon the manner in which the patient is laying. Generally, snoring is most obtrusive when sleeping on one's back, and is less of an issue when one sleeps on his or her side. This snoring may also not occur every night, and may be loudest with the patient is excessively fatigued and exhausted. Snoring associated with sleep apnea becomes worse over time for some patients.
Although snoring is one of the characteristic symptoms of sleep apnea, many patients suffer from the condition without experiencing sleepiness.
Another symptom of sleep apnea is daytime sleepiness. This fatigue can be so severe that it impacts one's ability to drive or work. Individuals with sleep apnea often find it very easy to fall asleep any time there is a lull in activity, without regard to how long that they slept the night before.
Other common symptoms related to sleep apnea include:
Sore throat upon waking
Dry mouth in the morning
Frequent need to urinate throughout the night
Personality issues, including mood swings, depression, and irritability
Issues with focus and concentration
Pediatric sleep apnea patients often experience the following symptoms: