Sleep apneais a common but potentially dangerous sleep disorder which can be characterized by repeated pauses in your breathing while asleep.
These pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and can occur thirty or more times per hour. Apneic events usually stop with a loud snort, snore or choking sound which can often momentarily wake you up which will then cause regular breathing to resume.
Sleep apnea occurs in three main types:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Occurs when throat muscles relax and your airway narrows.
Central Sleep Apnea: Occurs when your body fails to send signals to your muscles that control your breathing.
Complex Sleep Apnea: Is a combination between obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Obstructive is by far the most common accounting for 84% of sleep apnea cases. Complex accounts for 15% and central accounts for a small 0.4% of all cases.
Causes Of Sleep Apnea
The causes of sleep apnea vary wildy depending on what type of sleep apnea you suffer from.
Obstructive sleep apnea is caused when your airways become narrowed or blocked. This occurs because during sleep the muscles at the back of your throat relax causing the soft tissue to obstruct or block your airways. Once the obstruction has occur your oxygen levels are lowered and your brain senses this inability to breath, your body is then awoken briefly so that normal breathing can resume. In most cases you won’t even notice you’ve woken up multiple times during the night due to an obstruction as you are only awake for a few seconds at most. These sleep disruptions can happen hundreds of times per night and makes it impossible for your body to reach the restful stages of sleep. Click here for more information on the causes of obstructive sleep apnea.
Central sleep apnea is caused when your brain fails to send signals to the muscles that regulate your breathing. This causes you to awaken with shortness of breath and you may find it hard to get back to sleep, because you are usually awake for longer periods of time when you suffer from central sleep apnea you are more likely to remember these sleep interruptions. Click here for more information on the causes of central sleep apnea.
Complex sleep apnea is caused when you have a combination of both central and obstructive sleep apnea. This means that your airways can often become blocked or narrowed and your brain can also fail to send signals to your breathing muscles. Click here for more information on the causes of complex sleep apnea.
Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is an ongoing condition which generally results in poor sleep quality (due to the interrupted nature of your sleep). Despite the causes of sleep apnea varying based on what type you suffer from, the symptoms are largely the same. The most common symptoms are as follows:
- Loud snoring – more common in obstructive sleep apnea
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia) – more common in central and complex
- Waking up with a dry or sore throat
- Morning headaches
- Excessive tiredness during the day (hypersomnia)
- Cessations or pauses of breathing while asleep
- Frequent need to urinate at night
- Memory or learning problems & not being able to concentrate – most common in young children and can often lead to an incorrect ADHD diagnosis.
- Irritability, depression, mood swings or personality changes
For more information please read our specific articles on obstructive sleep apnea symptoms, central sleep apnea symptoms and complex symptoms.
Treatment Of Sleep Apnea
The treatment of sleep apnea is dependent on the type you suffer from, in the case of obstructive the aim is to keep your airways open while asleep. For central sleep apnea the aim is to achieve regular breathing while asleep. In the case of complex sleep apnea treatment aims to treat aspects of both central and obstructive.
Obstructive sleep apnea is treated by trying to restore regular breathing during sleep by ensuring your airways are unable to become blocked while sleeping. In milder cases your doctor will most likely prescribe life style changes such as loosing weight or quitting smoking. In more severe cases using machines such as CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) to prevent your airways becoming blocked. Sometimes surgery can become necessary or the preferred treatment option. A full range of treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea can be found by clicking here.
Central sleep apnea is treated by trying to address the underlying medical problems which can cause central sleep apnea (neuromuscular disorders, high blood pressure, heart disease). In the cases where those medical problems aren’t able to be easy identified or aren’t present treatment consists of trying to maintain a regular breathing pattern, this is done using supplemental oxygen and various machines; CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), BPAP (bi level positive airway pressure) & ASV (adaptive sero-ventilation). A full range of treatment options for central sleep apnea can be found by clicking here.
Complex sleep apnea is treated by using a combination of methods used in both central & obstructive apnea. The most common method is by using a CPAP machine along with lifestyle changes (weight lose, quitting smoking) & the treatment of underlying causes (high blood pressure, heart disease). A full range of treatment options for complex sleep apnea can be found by clicking here.
Alternative medicines such as taking special herbs and vitamins have not been well studied and are definitely not suitable for the sole treatment of sleep apnea. Acupuncture has been shown to have some benefit but more studies need to be done. If you plan to use any alternative medicines it’s important to talk to your doctor and continue with any traditional treatments they have prescribed.
Between 6 and 8 percent of the male population over 50 suffer from sleep apnea, most of these cases go untreated due to people not suspecting they may be sufferers. If you suspect you may have sleep apnea then it’s extremely important that you visit your local doctor. While this local doctor may not be able to treat you, they can refer you to a sleep specialist who can fully diagnosis and talk with you about treatment options.
If you suspect your bed partner may have sleep apnea (they snore loudly, are awoken often during the night breathless) then it’s important you raise the possibility of them having sleep apnea, as in most cases it’s family members and in particular partners that first see and hear the signs of sleep apnea. If possible, encourage them to talk to their local GP about the issue.
This sleep disorder can be dangerous so update any pre existing health insurance just in case you need a doctor visit.