Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which a person experiences interruptions in breathing during sleep. This can involve hundreds of breathing cessations throughout a given night, resulting in the brain and body not receiving the oxygen it needs.
There are two forms of sleep apnea. The most common are obstructive sleep apnea, which results from airway blockage in the soft tissue at the back of the throat. A more rare form is central sleep apnea, which results when the brain doesn’t properly signal the muscles to breathe.
Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any time, but overweight males over the age of 40 are at a higher risk than the rest of the population. Other risk factors include a large neck size, large tonsils or tongue, small jawbone, a nasal obstruction due to allergies, sinus problems or a deviated septum, a family history of the disorder, or those who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux (GERD or acid reflux disease).
People who suffer from sleep apnea face a number of dangers, including high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, depression and other mood disorders, headaches, concentration issues, stroke, and exhaustion. Many people with sleep apnea do not realize they have it.
Common symptoms include waking up with a dry or sore throat, chronic and loud snoring, waking up in the night from difficulty breathing, sleepiness, lack of focus and concentration, lethargy, headaches, forgetfulness, mood changes, decreased libido and frequent wakings at night.
A positive diagnosis is usually done via a sleep study. In the past, these were done at a sleep clinic, but modern science allows them to be performed at home. These tests record your sleep activity to check for interruptions in breathing.
If a patient is diagnosed with sleep apnea, treatments can range from lifestyle changes to medication and surgery to the use of a special CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine while sleeping.