What Is Sleep Apnea?
The Greek word “apnea” means without breath. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a common disorder in which an individual has one or more pauses in breathing while sleeping. These breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and often occur 5 to 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.
During the increasing muscular relaxation of deepening sleep, the airway becomes increasingly flaccid; the soft palate, the soft lining tissues of the throat, and the tongue relax, fall back and collapse during sleep. As the relaxing tongue falls back, it seals against the back of the throat during attempts to take a breath.
Snoring is the vibration of the soft palate and throat walls against the tongue during the breathing, with reduced airflow due to increased resistance. As collapsibility increases, complete closure can occur.
In apnea events oxygen levels of the blood can drop, triggering a response of the brain to prevent asphyxia. These severe drops in blood oxygen levels immediately causes alarm signals to be sent to your brain. Your body reacts by increasing heart rate, cardiac output, and blood pressure – desperately trying to get more deoxygenated blood to your lungs and more oxygenated blood out to your brain and body. Serious cardiovascular and respiratory responses occur during sleep apnea, often with you unaware.
The sleep apnea patient may have these events occur up to 600 times per night resulting in fragmented, non-refreshing sleep as well as chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Some of the most serious chronic diseases which have been associated with snoring and sleep apnea, include: stroke, high blood pressure, heart attack, arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), cardiac arrhythmias (irregular pulse), diabetes, gastro-esophageal reflux disorder (GERD)
Over 40 million people suffer from the effects of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. Risk factors include being male (1 in 4!) overweight, and over the age of forty, but sleep apnea can strike ANYONE at ANY age, even children.