What is Sleep Apnea?

What is Sleep Apnea?

Good quality sleep is one commodity that we need on a daily basis. Some might say that they get all the sleep they need but still find themselves feeling tired when they get out of bed. If this happens, they just might be suffering from sleep apnea.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which an individual’s breathing is disrupted during sleep. As the person falls deeper into sleep, his breathing pattern changes until a cough or something similar jolts him into the shallower type of sleep, often without his conscious awareness. Since the person cannot get enough deep, restorative sleep at night, he often wakes up feeling tired. In the worst case, sleep apnea can cause other health problems such as stroke, high blood pressure, and heart attack.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are basically two main types of sleep apnea. The more common of the two is what is called obstructive sleep apnea, wherein the tissue at the back of the throat relaxes during sleep. This causes snoring, which in turn can wake the sleeper from deep slumber. It may happen just once or twice in a night or in a week, but if it becomes frequent then it could become a huge problem.

The second type of sleep apnea is called central sleep apnea. This is more of a problem with the central nervous system. The brain of an individual who suffers from central sleep apnea is unable to send signals to the muscles that control his breathing. Therefore, his breathing stops and starts repeatedly during his sleep.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The difficult thing about sleep apnea is that its most common symptoms manifest while one is asleep. Therefore, if you want to gather data to see if you have sleep apnea, you will either have to ask your partner to watch you while you sleep, or visit a sleep clinic. However, there are some other symptoms that can give you a clue as to whether you could be suffering from sleep apnea. These symptoms include:

  • Frequent morning headaches
  • Inability to concentrate during the day
  • Irritability and frequent mood swings
  • Sore throat and a dry mouth when you wake up

Treatments for Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea can be a very dangerous condition when left untreated. At the very least, it can leave you feeling tired throughout the day and have you wondering what you are doing wrong. If you suspect that you may be suffering from sleep apnea, it is best to consult a physician immediately.

While severe cases of sleep apnea may need CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) treatment or surgery, individuals who suffer from mild cases of this sleep disorder can improve their condition by making some lifestyle changes:

  • Avoid alcohol and sedatives – they relax the throat muscle and could interfere with breathing.
  • Lose weight – researches have found that being moderately overweight increases the risk for obstructive sleep apnea by about 10 times.
  • Quit smoking – smoking can cause swelling in the upper airway.
  • Sleep on your side – this prevents the base of your tongue from collapsing into the back of your throat and obstructing your breathing.

Image credit: Tony Alter