Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects people’s ability to achieve deep sleep. People with sleep apnea may experience a variety of symptoms, as their sleep cycles become irregular. There are 3 types of sleep apnea that can affect your sleep quality.
Types Of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea. With this form of sleep apnea, your sleep patterns are disrupted due to the muscles in your throat relaxing too deeply during sleep.
Central sleep apnea is caused by your brain being unable to send the proper signals during sleep that control breathing, leading to sleep disordered breathing.
Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, is a combination of these two.
Risk Factors For Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can occur to anyone, although there are certain risk factors that will give you a higher likelihood of this disorder. Each form of sleep apnea has its own risk factors, and for OSA this includes excess weight, neck circumference, narrow airways, being male or older, family history, alcohol and tobacco consumption, nasal congestion, and other medical conditions.
For central sleep apnea, risk factors also include being male or older, along with heart disorders, using narcotic pain medication, or having a stroke.
Causes Of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is caused due to intense relaxation of the muscles in the back of your throat. These muscles support the soft palate, the uvula, the tonsils, and the walls of your throat which promotes regular breathing. When these muscles relax, your upper airways narrow or even close, making it harder to get enough air when you inhale. This leads to lower oxygen levels in your blood, and when your brain senses the inability to breathe it sends signals to wake you up.
It is difficult to stay asleep throughout the night when suffering from sleep apnea, as you must be woken up to fix your breathing problems and receive the correct amount of oxygen. However, this waking period is typically brief enough that you will not remember it the next morning, although it will contribute to poor sleep quality.
Central sleep apnea occurs when your brain fails to send the correct signals to facilitate breathing. This means that for a period of time, your body is making no effort to breathe during sleep. This can lead to you waking with shortness of breath or having a difficult time trying to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea affects each person differently, so not everyone will experience the same symptoms. There are many possible symptoms that can occur, and common symptoms of sleep apnea include gasping for air during sleep, awakening with a dry mouth, morning headaches, difficulty paying attention while awake, and irritability.
The four main symptoms are chronic snoring, breathing issues during sleep, difficulty staying asleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Complications Of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is more than just the inability to obtain quality sleep, it is a serious medical condition. Complications can arise from untreated sleep apnea, such as excessive daytime sleepiness, high blood pressure or heart problems, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, complications with medication and surgery, and liver problems.
If you suspect you have sleep apnea, make an appointment with a sleep center immediately to receive a diagnosis and start treatment so you can avoid these complications.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can be diagnosed by your doctor or at a sleep center by a series of tests. Your doctor may conduct a sleep study (polysomnography)or you may be instructed on how to give yourself a home sleep study. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor might refer you to an ear, nose and throat doctor to determine if the cause is blockage in your nose or throat. An evaluation by a heart doctor (cardiologist) or a doctor who specializes in the nervous system (neurologist) might be necessary to look for causes of central sleep apnea.
Treatment For Sleep Apnea
The main treatment for sleep apnea is to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. A CPAP machine delivers air pressure through a mask while you sleep, which keeps your airways open. Another treatment option is the Inspire program, which is a small device that is surgically implanted into your throat and turned on before sleep to send signals that open your airways.
A common noninvasive treatment is wearing an oral appliance that is designed to keep your throat open. These work by bringing your jaw forward, which works to stop snoring and appease mild cases of sleep apnea. You may also receive treatment for associated medical problems that contribute to your sleep apnea, or be given supplemental oxygen or adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV).
How Gwinnett Sleep Can Help
Gwinnett Sleep offers services that can help diagnose any factors that may be causing sleep apnea. We provide consultations, conduct sleep studies (known as polysomnography), and offer a CPAP clinic. If you suspect that you may have sleep apnea, you should get tested as soon as possible. Learn more about our services here, or schedule an appointment to talk to our doctors.