Sleep apnea affects nearly 18 million Americans, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep apnea is a chronic sleep disorder, which may cause daytime drowsiness, concentration and memory issues, depression, and even serious health issues including stroke and heart failure.
What is sleep apnea? The Harvard Medical Dictionary defines sleep apnea as a “cessation of breathing during sleep, lasting about 10 seconds and associated with a fall in blood oxygen or arousal from sleep.”
Two types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea means you have a blockage in your airway or collapsed airway while you’re sleeping. This causes you to breathe with pauses and often results in loud snoring. It’s the most common type of sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which your brain doesn’t send breathing signals to your body while you’re sleeping. Your breath will pause, but usually there isn’t any loud snoring.
Symptoms. Sleep apnea sufferers may experience daytime drowsiness, crankiness, trouble with concentration and difficulty staying asleep. Many people with sleep apnea don’t even know they have a sleep disorder. The disorder can’t be detected through blood tests or through routine examinations at the doctor’s office. In many cases, the disorder is revealed when a family member or roommate sharing the bedroom notices loud snoring, snorting or pauses of breathing while the person is sleeping. People who are overweight are more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, while anyone can be affected with central sleep apnea, states the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.
Treatments. Obstructive sleep apnea is treated with a CPAP device, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure. A mask fits over your nose and sends a constant stream of air to help keep the airway open. Dental appliances may also be used to reposition the jaw during sleep, allowing more airflow. Another option is surgery to remove tissue from the airway. Central sleep apnea may also be treated with a CPAP device. In some cases, central sleep apnea is treated with medications to stimulate breathing.
Lifestyle changes. Various lifestyle changes are encouraged for people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. Weight loss is important, and in some people it will eliminate their sleep apnea. Other healthy lifestyle changes for sleep apnea sufferers include quitting smoking and avoiding or limiting alcohol. Side sleeping instead of back sleeping may also help reduce breathing problems during sleep.