Sleep Apnea: What It Is and How to Treat It

Do you snore loudly while sleeping and feel tired when you wake up? You may suffer from a potentially serious condition called sleep apnea. Experts estimate that around 22 million Americans have some kind of sleep apnea, and 80% of those with moderate to severe cases remain undiagnosed. 

Unlike occasional insomnia, sleep apnea can result in more than just sleepiness. When left untreated, it can lead to life threatening conditions including high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and even death.

What Is Sleep Apnea?
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Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which you repeatedly stop breathing while you are sleeping. Each time this happens, the brain wakes you up, usually just partially, so that you can breathe again. This constant waking up degrades the quality of your sleep and reduces the oxygenation of your blood, stressing your whole system. 

Those suffering from severe sleep apnea may wake up hundreds of times a night, most often during the important rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep cycle.

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea and complex sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is when your tongue collapses against the soft palate, which is then pushed against the back of your throat during sleep. When this happens, the throat is partially blocked, making it difficult or impossible to breathe. OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea, accounting for around 65% of the cases.

Central sleep apnea (CSA) is less common and happens when the brain fails to transmit signals to your breathing muscles. The body simply stops breathing during sleep or breathes so shallowly that it cannot take in enough oxygen. Sometimes, periods of shallow breathing will be followed by overly deep breathing. Central sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed because it is typically not accompanied by loud snoring.

Complex sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. After patients are treated for OSA, some of them will exhibit signs of CSA indicating that they have complex sleep apnea. Complex sleep apnea occurs in about 15% of the patients.

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