The first time that a doctor tells you about sleep apnea can be a very scary moment. The thought that you actually stop breathing several times a night is quite worrisome, and many people will jump at the first cure offered without knowing all of the facts. Before you panic, it is important to understand exactly what sleep apnea is and what you can do about it.
There are in fact three kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when something physically blocks the airway, preventing you from breathing for short periods of time as you sleep. Central sleep apnea, which is far less common, is caused by a malfunction of the brain where it “forgets” to tell you body to breathe. Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.
As each episode of apnea occurs the brain briefly wakes the body in order to restart breathing. This means that a person with sleep apnea is constantly waking up throughout the night, resulting in a fragmented sleep cycle and a feeling of having a poor night’s sleep in the morning.
Sleep apnea is actually quite common, indeed just as common as better known issues such as diabetes. It often goes undiagnosed, for unless a partner notices it, most people are not aware of the breaks in their sleep. Often it is not discovered until a person seeks help for excessive snoring, which goes hand-in-hand with obstructive sleep apnea.
While it is more common for older men with weight issues to have sleep apnea, it can affect any age or gender. Telltales include heavy snoring, periods of quiet broken by loud snorts as the sleeper starts to breathe again, and a sense of not having gotten enough sleep even after a normal amount of sleep-time. Sometimes those affected have difficulties remaining awake during the day, are unusually irritable, or experience headaches.
As can be expected, sleep apnea can be quite serious. While you are unlikely to completely stop breathing at night, the long-term issues can be life-threatening. Because a person with sleep apnea does not get adequate sleep at night, there is a high risk of that person becoming over-tired during the day. This greatly increases the risk of making poor decisions when working or driving, causing an accident. Some people even fall asleep at inappropriate times such as when behind the wheel on a long drive. Some doctors will prescribe a stop snoring mouthpiece as a treatment
Other health risks associated with sleep apnea include an increased risk of strokes or mini-strokes (known as transient ischemic attacks or TIAs). The heart is also affected and there is the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and arrhythmia. With increased blood pressure numerous other health issues become a concern.