Guide to Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea falls under the sleep disorder category, even though you might not have difficulty sleeping. This disorder causes you to stop breathing while you are sleeping, even though you do not realize it. There are three different types of this disorder – obstructive, central, and complex sleep apnea. Of the three, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common disorder. No matter the cause of the disorder you have, the fact that you stop breathing a few to several hundred times per night is a cause for worry.


The Types of Sleep Apnea


Despite the common factor that any person with sleep apnea stops breathing, it helps to know why this occurs. People that have obstructive sleep apnea have tissue that is obstructing their breathing when they lie down or when the throat muscles relax so much that they obstruct their breathing. With central sleep apnea, there is not an obstruction, but rather an issue with the signals that are sent from the brain to the muscles, prompting them to breathe. Complex sleep apnea refers to people that have both types of issues – tissue blocking the airway and a lack of signals coming from the brain.


Who Gets Sleep Apnea?


Millions of Americans have sleep apnea, but there are certain factors that make people more susceptible to the disease than others, including being overweight, having a “thick neck”, having a slim throat, suffering from chronic nasal congestion, being male, and being older than 40-years old. Certain lifestyle habits can also put you at more risk for this disorder, including the consumption of alcohol, as it relaxes the muscles, causing your tissue to collapse and cause an obstruction. Smoking also puts you more at risk because it causes fluid retention in your airway. In addition, central sleep apnea can occur if you have congestive heart failure, have had a stroke, or take pain medication regularly.




The symptoms of sleep apnea are not as obvious as you might assume. Most people do not wake up and realize that they stopped breathing while they slept. Instead, symptoms that may occur include loud snoring, episodes of daytime sleepiness, feelings of not being well rested, waking with a dry throat, mood swings, and headaches upon waking. Due to the fact these symptoms can be a sign of other issues as well, it is important to get diagnosed by a doctor in order to get the right treatment.


Testing for Sleep Apnea


The only way to test for this disorder is to have a sleep study performed. During this study, your brain waves, heart function, and lung function are monitored while you sleep. The study also monitors the movements of your body and your blood oxygen levels. This is the best way to have concrete evidence of what your body does while you sleep in order to determine the necessary therapy.




If you leave sleep apnea untreated, it can cause a variety of complications, some of which can be life-threatening. These complications include high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke, mood disorders including depression, and diabetes. Due to the fact many of these issues can be fatal, it is very important to get sleep apnea treated as soon as you have a suspicion that you have it.




Treatments for sleep apnea vary, depending on its severity. If the doctor thinks losing weight and/or treating your allergies will have a profound effect on your breathing while sleeping, he will start there. In more serious cases, he may require the use of a CPAP, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, which is a mask you wear while you sleep that helps to force air into your body, which helps to keep your airways open. In more severe cases, you may have to undergo surgery to remove the excess tissue in your throat, reposition your jaw, or even create a new airway.


Sleep apnea is nothing to take lightly. If you are concerned that you may have it, you should talk to your doctor right away and start treatment or make necessary changes to your lifestyle in order to decrease the risk of cessation of breathing at night.