In the simplest of terms, sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that affects the amount of oxygen a person’s brain gets while they sleep. This condition interrupts the natural flow of air during sleep. There is a variation of this disorder called obstructive sleep apnea where an individual will stop breathing for several seconds during a period of sleep. It may only last ten seconds or so but this pattern repeats throughout the night.
Another variation of this is central sleep apnea which has some of the same symptoms but is a more serious problem.
Breathing is something we do without even thinking about it or being conscious of the fact we’re doing it. During sleep, our breathing slows down because it is being controlled by our subconscious. The muscles at the back of the throat are supposed to open the airways when the brain signals the body to breathe. During obstructive sleep apnea, the muscles are not as efficient at holding the airways open. For central sleep apnea, the brain itself is at fault here. The signal to breathe is not being sent correctly. This is a much more serious problem because then it is neurological instead of being a muscle function.
People at risk for developing sleep apnea are overweight individuals, people who smoke, drink, and also those with restricted muscle function or a narrow airway.
One of the first symptoms and one that many people recognize is that you forget to take a breath during the night. Your sleeping partner may have mentioned that you skip a breath at night or you snore very loudly. This is another indication, very loud snoring.
Another issue is fragmented sleep. When a person with this condition sleeps, they do not have restful sleep because it is disrupted several times during the night. Over time they start to develop problems with blood pressure and memory from lack of sleep and low oxygen levels.
You will also be taught the best sleeping positions to help your airways to breathe naturally; most people find that sleeping on their side helps to keep their airways open at all times (health practitioners should look at our course on how to add sleep apnea treatment to their business).
Most often, the first and best type of therapy is behavioral therapy. The goal here is to remove the risk factors to reduce instances of sleep apnea. You may be encouraged to lose weight, stop smoking, drinking, and sleep in positions known to increase airflow while sleeping. Side sleeping is more preferable to sleeping on your back because the tongue cannot block the airway. You may also be prescribed oxygen therapy through a CPAP or continuous pressure machine.
Sleep apnea is a continuing problem for many people but health professionals are finding increasingly better ways of treating it.
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