Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stop and starts during sleep. Although there are several types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles supporting the soft palate, tonsils, uvula, and tongue relax and cause blockage of your airways. This leads to the cessation of breathing for 10 to 20 seconds at a time, and can lower the level of oxygen in your blood. When this happens, your brain wakes you up in an effort to reopen the blocked airway. This can happen up to 30 times an hour, all night long.
Along with keeping you from deep, restful sleep, sleep apnea can result in other harmful conditions. Drops in oxygen levels can strain the cardiovascular system and lead to serious problems down the road. The lack of restful sleep can result in serious daytime fatigue. If you snore loudly enough, you can even damage to your relationship by keeping your partner awake at night.
You may be wondering how you can know whether you’re being affected by obstructive sleep apnea. Here are a few of the symptoms:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring
- Observed episodes of breathing cessation during sleep
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath
- Waking up to a dry mouth or sore throat
- Morning headache
- Difficulty concentrating during the day
- Mood changes, i.e. depression or irritability
- Difficulty staying asleep
- High blood pressure
See a doctor if you experience:
- Snoring loud enough to disturb the sleep of you or your partner
- Shortness of breath that awakens you
- Intermittent pauses in breathing during sleep
- Excessive daytime drowsiness
Obstructive sleep apnea is especially prevalent in overweight people. Having a large neck or high blood pressure can also factor in. Rates rise for males and also for blacks and users of alcohol or tobacco. If you have any of these risk factors and are experiencing the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, see a doctor and find out what treatment options are open to you.