Sleep Apnea

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea is a breathing disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep.
There are two common types of sleep apnea: central and obstructive.

  • Central sleep apnea, which is less common, occurs when the brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the breathing muscles to initiate respirations.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea is far more common and occurs when air cannot flow into or out of the person’s nose or mouth although efforts to breathe continue.

Sleep apnea can be characterized by choking sensations and frequent interruptions of deep, restorative sleep, which often leads to excessive daytime sleepiness and may be associated with an early morning headache.

Who gets Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea occurs in all age groups and both sexes but is more common in men (it may be under diagnosed in women) and possibly young African Americans. People most likely to have or develop sleep apnea include those who snore loudly and also are overweight, or have high blood pressure, or have some physical abnormality in the nose, throat, or other parts of the upper airway. Sleep apnea seems to run in some families, suggesting a possible genetic basis.

What Are the Effects of Sleep Apnea?

Because of the serious disturbances in their normal sleep patterns, people with sleep apnea often feel very sleepy during the day and their concentration and daytime performance suffer. The consequences of sleep apnea range from annoying to life threatening. They include symptoms suggesting depression, irritability, sexual dysfunction, learning and memory difficulties, and falling asleep while at work, on the phone, or driving. Untreated sleep apnea patients are 3 times more likely to have automobile accidents. It has been estimated that up to 50% of sleep apnea patients have high blood pressure. Sleep Apnea may also contribute to heart attacks and stroke.

When Should Sleep Apnea be Suspected?

For many sleep apnea patients, their bed partners or family members are the first ones to suspect that something is wrong, usually from their heavy snoring and apparent struggle to breathe. Coworkers or friends of the sleep apnea victim may notice that the individual falls asleep during the day at inappropriate times (such as while driving a car working, or talking). It is important that the person see a doctor for evaluation of the sleep problem.