Sleep Apnea 101: What You Should Know

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sleep apnea

Some people have heard of sleep apnea but ignore it. Others have no idea what it is. For the latter, their snoring is just as simple as that; snoring. The shocking truth is that snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea. This is why you should consult your healthcare provider prior to using any type of snoring solution.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea IS NOT a severe snoring condition BUT a SLEEPING DISORDER characterized by a reduction in breathing or pauses in breathing when you are sleeping. A typical apnea happens when you take in less than 25% of normal oxygen intake for the same amount of time as a non-apneic person, or your breathing stops for at least 10 seconds when youre sleeping. A 4% or more decrease in blood oxygen level can be a further indication of this condition.

Risks of Sleep Apnea

During a sleep apnea event, inadequate breathing and poor oxygen levels in your blood alert your brain to wake you up, thereby interrupting your sleep. Sometime, the interruption will compel you to completely wake up. However, in most cases, you will just transition from deep sleep to shallow sleep.

A typical apnea is measured over a period of two hours.

To determine how severe a sleep apnea is, the number of apneas that have occurred are divided by the number of sleep hours resulting in an apnea index (AI). A high number of AI indicates a more severe condition.

Another term that I should bring to your attention is hypopnea. This is a 29 to 69 percent of decrease in normal breathing. This condition is not as severe as apnea. However, it might still interfere with your sleep as it affects blood oxygen levels and disrupts breathing.

Types of Sleep Apnea

Contrary to what most people think, there is no one sleep apnea with different severity levels. Instead, there are different types of sleep apneas. These include:

  1. Central Sleep Apnea

This is an apneic condition where the brain fails to instruct the muscles to breathe.

  1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

This is the most popular case of sleep apnea and unfortunately, the one that mostly goes undiagnosed. In this case, the brain will promptly instruct the muscles to breathe and they will try to do so. However, breathing will be hindered because of an obstruction in the airway.

  1. Mixed Sleep Apnea

People diagnosed with mixed sleep apnea have both incidences i.e. the brain fails to command the muscles to breathe and they simply cant breathe due to an obstruction in the airway.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This apneic condition unfortunately goes unrecognized most of the time, especially if minor. You should be aware of the condition so that you dont confuse it to snoring and end up buying a mouthpiece that cant address it. There are 4 main characteristics of this apneic condition:

  • The airway becomes temporarily blocked
  • The brain sends a command to the muscles to breathe but breathing is frustrated by the obstruction in the airway
  • The oxygen levels in the blood drop
  • The brain is alerted of the decreased blood oxygen and signals the body to wake up

In normal breathing, air will pass behind the uvula, soft palate, the base of the tongue and then through the throat muscles. It will then flow between the vocal cords before finally reaching the lungs. Any distraction in this journey will lead to an apnea. Distraction in the flow of air can result from:

  • Fall back of the jaw due to gravity when you relax, causing the long or floppy uvula or palate to temporarily block the airway
  • Fall back of the tongue to the back of the throat, a common incidence for people who sleep on their back.
  • Temporary closure or narrowing of the side walls of the throat when they fall together due to relaxation of the muscles.
  • Swelling of the nose turbinate, which will lead to blockage of air flow through the nasal passage.
  • Cases where an individual has a deviated septum that normally makes the air passage narrower.

For people with OSA, the airway at the base of the tongue and at the palate of people is always narrower than of those without the condition. Therefore, when they lie on their back, the palate gets directly on top of the air passage. When the body is in a relaxed state, the muscles of the pharynx also relax. Consequently, they fall back and obstruct the airway.

Generally, a person with an apneic condition will not notice when they wake up through the night on each apnea. This is because most of the time the brain wakes them up when they are in REM stage 3 or 4 sleeping state, and they will therefore just move into a shallow sleep.

When this happens, the genioglossus muscles contract, pulling the tongue in a forward state to allow the individual to breathe. Therefore, the only way the person will realize that they did not fully sleep is waking up exhausted or in bad moods. This is because lack of deep sleep results in the body not being fully rested.

Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The estimated number of people with OSA in USA is 2% of women and 4% of men. However, only 10% of these cases have been diagnosed and are being treated. Here are some of the common symptoms that may indicate you have a sleeping disorder.

  • Snoring An irritating loud snore could be an indication of OSA. Unfortunately most people fail to realize this and their cases go undiagnosed.
  • Gasping for Air Except in new born and young children, if your partner or roommate comments that you pose between breaths when youre sleeping or if you wake up gasping for air, this is a cause for concern and could be a possible indication of sleep apnea.
  • Morning headache Did you eat a late night sugary snack or drink last night? No. So, waking up with a headache should worry you. A headache could be a sign that your brain got insufficient oxygen through the night and this might be an indication of OSA.
  • Daytime Sleepiness If you are constantly sleeping during the day, even after the nights that you sleep early, this could be an indication that you did not spend enough time in deep sleep stage and your body is therefore not fully rested. So, even if you sleep for more than 8 hours but in REM or light sleep, you will still wake up exhausted as your body will not be recharged.
  • Poor memory and attention span When you brain fails to have enough rest, it tends to start lugging in performance. If you often find difficulty concentrating or become forgetful, this could be an indication of OSA.
  • Others Other uncommon signs that could be an indication of OSA include anxiety, sexual dysfunction, irritability, depression, insomnia, confusion and frequent napping.

Conclusion

Not every person diagnosed with sleep apnea snores and not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. A partner of a person with sleep apnea could also exhibit the same symptoms since their sleep is also disrupted. The best person to truly confirm your condition is a doctor.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you suspect that you could be suffering from sleep apnea or when you notice any of the above symptoms.

 

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