What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
The definition for apnea is literally 'to stop breathing.' Shallow or obstructed breath is a common sleep disorder that affects tens of millions of people worldwide. Unfortunately, it is not easily known by the sufferer that he or she has sleep apnea. Usually sleep apnea is diagnosed by a medical professional based on symptoms the sufferer is experiencing. Or, most often, the issue is noticed by a bed partner or someone who observes the sufferer sleep.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) happens when there are several instances of an obstructed upper airway throughout the night. This may happen a few times, a couple dozen times, or even hundreds of times each and every night. And each pause in breathing may last seconds to minutes. Additionally, as the diaphragm and chest muscles work harder to pull in air, the body receives degraded quality of sleep. The breathing obstructions are accompanied by a body jolt, loud snort, or gasp.
OSA is a chronic condition. It doesn't simply go away naturally. That's why it is imperative to receive treatment for it as soon as possible to prevent other medical conditions. When your sleep restores after each obstruction, your body transfers from deep sleep to shallow sleep. For patients who experience a breathing obstruction several times per minute (up to 30), that would mean they are never reaching deep sleep. This has can have serious health consequences.
Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
One of the most common symptoms of OSA is daytime sleepiness. While it is normal to feel sleepy after too few hours of sleep, or even too many hours of sleep, it's not normal to feel sleepy during the day after a full night of sleep, about 8 hours. Patients usually visit a medical professional complaining about daytime sleepiness, and their sleep disorder is revealed. Other times, sufferers may increase their dependence on caffeine, sugar, or energy supplements to stay awake, which may increase health complications even more.
Many sufferers don't know they have OSA, therefore it is important to assess how you feel during the day. Do not take daytime tiredness lightly - your body may be telling you of a bigger problem.
- Daytime tiredness, excessive fatigue
- Nighttime Restlessness
- Sudden Jolts of Awakening
- Difficulty Waking Up
- Dry Mouth, Sore Throat and/or Headaches in the Morning
More than twelve-million people in America alone have sleep apnea, and more than half of that number are obese. Research shows that sleep apnea is hereditary, so if you have a family member who has sleep apnea, there is an increased risk of you having it already or developing it in the future.
A polysomnogram, or sleep study, is usually required to diagnose a patient with chronic obstructive sleep apnea. Fortunately, due to the advancements in medical science, these studies are becoming more affordable and easier for the average individual to access. Despite the charted figure of 12-million sufferers, that number is likely to be a lot higher - perhaps more than double - due to the difficulty in self-assessing symptoms. The rarity of being able to detect the breathing difficulty makes this an important condition to rule out via sleep study or having someone observe your sleeping patterns.
For those who have a friend or family member willing to observe sleep behaviors, it is important to watch out for several key things during sleep:
- Cessation of Breathing - major warning sign!
- Choking/Gasping During Sleep - sign of hindered air passage
- Sudden jolts during the night - not to be confused with hypnic jerks
- Constant Restlessness - sign that individual is not reaching deep sleep
- Labored breathing - sign that not enough air is entering the lungs
What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is caused by inadequate oxygen when you are sleeping. While you're awake, your throat muscles help keep your airway open and firm so air can easily flow into your lungs. These muscles relax while you're sleeping, which in turn narrows your throat.
However, your airway can become partly or completely obstructed if you suffer from sleep apnea, for any of the following reasons:
- You are carrying excessive weight or obese. The resulting extra soft fatty tissue can thicken the wall of the windpipe. This results in a narrowing of the interior of the windpipe, making it more difficult to keep open.
- Age. The aging process restricts your brain signals' skill to keep your throat muscles stiff during slumber. Thus, as you age, your airway is more likely fail or to narrow.
- Your tonsils and/or tongue (i.e. tissue mass in the rear of your mouth) are relatively large in comparison with the opening to your windpipe.
- Your throat and tongue are more relaxed than is usual/normal during sleep.
- The structure of your head and neck may be causing a reduced airway.
- Insufficient air flows into your lungs if your airway is completely or partly obstructed during slumber. The result of this is loud snoring, and a drop in your blood oxygen levels.
This oxygen reduction causes your brain to interfere with your sleep in the event that it becomes a potentially dangerous situation. This has the effect of opening your windpipe and tightening the upper airway muscles. This allows normal breathing to resume -- commonly accompanied by a loud snort or choking sound.
Craniofacial syndromes such as the oral tissue mass enlargement sometimes caused by Down Syndrome can also put a person at risk for OSA syndrome. In still other craniofacial syndromes, the airway may actually be enhanced vs normal; However when surgically corrected, overcompensation can result that may in some cases place the individual at risk for post-op obstructive sleep apnea. Likewise, there are several types of clefting syndromes where clefting is accompanied by a narrower-than-normal nasal passage - which might not be clear. In such cases, if the cleft palette is closed, e.g. via oral appliance or by surgical procedure, this can result in OSA.
How We Can Help You
Want to learn more? Call us at (707) 595-4188.
Our office performs low-cost sleep study screenings to detect the presence of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. We then work with you to create a treatment plan that will restore your quality of sleep and prevent any health complications due to OSA. Remember, quality of sleep is correlated with quality of life, and by receiving the treatment that your body needs you will feel better all around. Just read our reviews from our satisfied patients. We work alongside medical specialists here in Sonoma County and in distant cities. We have special software for helping you handle insurance needs. Get the sleep you deserve!