An individual’s throat muscles are stiff when they are awake, which keeps their airway open; however, when an individual is asleep the muscles are more relaxed, but they normally still allow adequate airflow. Sleep apnea may require surgery to get fixed.
Sleep apnea occurs when an individual’s throat muscles and tongue are more relaxed than normal. When they are relaxed, breathing may pause from 10 seconds to minutes and this can occur up to 30 times in an hour. When airflow stops, the oxygen level in the blood drops. When normal sleep resumes, it is often with a choking sound or a loud snort. Since the natural sleep rhythm is interrupted, this causes the person to spend more time in a light sleep pattern. The restorative deep sleep that is required for a person to be energetic and productive the following day is lacking.
3 Types of Sleep Apnea
There are several types of sleep apnea that have similar signs and symptoms. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type. This type of apnea is due to relaxed throat muscles. Another type of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea, which happens when the brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. This typically occurs as the brain ages and accounts for 10 percent of people over 65 that suffer form this disorder. There is also a complex sleep apnea that is a combination of both types of apnea listed above.
Who is Susceptible?
Sleep apnea is more common in men, in African Americans, and the risk increases with age. Approximately 50 percent of the people with this condition are obese. A positive family history also increases the risk of sleep apnea. People who have small airways in the throat, nose or mouth have an increased risk of getting sleep apnea. Enlarged tonsils in children can be the problem also.
Approximately one half of the people with sleep apnea have high blood pressure. Sleep apnea is also linked to smoking, diabetes and metabolic syndrome; plus, it is considered a risk factor for strokes and heart attacks.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Most people do not know they have sleep apnea, and often it is their bed partner that recognizes the signs due to the loud snoring.
These are most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, which do not happen with central sleep apnea.
- Chronic, loud snoring
- Snorting, chocking sounds or gasping during sleep
- Having long pauses in breathing
- Daytime sleepiness regardless of hours spent in bed
The less common symptoms include:
- Awaking with a sore throat or dry mouth
- A morning headache
- Restless sleep
- Insomnia or awaking often at night
- Frequent need to go the bathroom at night
- Awakening short of breath
- Difficulty concentrating or forgetfulness during the day
- Unusual depression, irritability and moodiness
- Self-Help Treatments for Sleep Apnea
There are several self-help measures that may reduce symptoms, particularly for mild to moderate sleep apnea. These methods include losing weight, quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol, sleeping pills, and sedatives. Maintain a regular sleep schedule, and avoid alcohol and heavy meals right before bed. Sleeping on the side with the head propped up is helpful. Nasal decongestants may also useful.
Moderate or severe sleep apnea that has not responded to self-help methods requires medical evaluation. Treatment of central and complex sleep apnea is designed to treat the underlying medical conditions, which may be a neuromuscular disorder. Supplemental oxygen is used while sleeping. Obstructive sleep apnea is typically treated with continuous positive pressures (CPAP). New CPAP devices are quieter, lighter and more comfortable. People generally experience immediate relief from the fatigue that accompanies this disorder.