Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a con­di­tion in which breath­ing stop and starts dur­ing sleep. Although there are sev­eral types of sleep apnea, obstruc­tive sleep apnea is the most common.

Obstruc­tive sleep apnea occurs when the mus­cles sup­port­ing the soft palate, ton­sils, uvula, and tongue relax and cause block­age of your air­ways. This leads to the ces­sa­tion of breath­ing for 10 to 20 sec­onds at a time, and can lower the level of oxy­gen in your blood. When this hap­pens, your brain wakes you up in an effort to reopen the blocked air­way. This can hap­pen up to 30 times an hour, all night long.

Along with keep­ing you from deep, rest­ful sleep, sleep apnea can result in other harm­ful con­di­tions. Drops in oxy­gen lev­els can strain the car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem and lead to seri­ous prob­lems down the road. The lack of rest­ful sleep can result in seri­ous day­time fatigue. If you snore loudly enough, you can even dam­age to your rela­tion­ship by keep­ing your part­ner awake at night.

You may be won­der­ing how you can know whether you’re being affected by obstruc­tive sleep apnea. Here are a few of the symptoms:

  • Exces­sive day­time sleepiness
  • Loud snor­ing
  • Observed episodes of breath­ing ces­sa­tion dur­ing sleep
  • Abrupt awak­en­ings accom­pa­nied by short­ness of breath
  • Wak­ing up to a dry mouth of sore throat
  • Morn­ing headache
  • Dif­fi­culty con­cen­trat­ing dur­ing the day
  • Mood changes, i.e. depres­sion or irritability
  • Dif­fi­culty stay­ing asleep
  • High blood pressure

See a doc­tor if you experience:

  • Snor­ing loud enough to dis­turb the sleep of you or your partner
  • Short­ness of breath that awak­ens you
  • Inter­mit­tent pauses in breath­ing dur­ing sleep
  • Exces­sive day­time drowsiness

Obstruc­tive sleep apnea is espe­cially preva­lent in over­weight peo­ple. Hav­ing a large neck or high blood pres­sure can also fac­tor in. Rates rise for males and also for blacks and users of alco­hol or tobacco. If you have any of these risk fac­tors and are expe­ri­enc­ing the symp­toms of obstruc­tive sleep apnea, see a doc­tor and find out what treat­ment options are open to you.