Obstructive sleep apnea, or simply sleep apnea, is a sleeping disorder where a person’s breathing patterns slow down or become very shallow. Sleep apnea is very dangerous because each pause, called by doctors an apnea, can range in duration from ten seconds to as long as several minutes.
This is a serious health concern because brain cells cannot tolerate long periods of oxygen deprivation. And this is precisely the risk people with sleep apnea are subjected to since they aren’t breathing for as long as minutes.
In fact, death can result if an apnea is long enough. If all this isn’t worrisome enough, a sleep apnea sufferer can experience five to thirty or more apneas in a single hour. This oxygen starvation can lead to hypertension, heart disease, mood or memory problems, sexual dysfunction, and of course exhaustion from frequently disturbed sleep.
Sleep Apnea is Often a Hidden Danger
More than 18 million adult Americans have sleep apnea, and it is frequently found in children as well, particularly those who snore. What makes sleep apnea such a silent killer is the fact that the sufferer is not aware he or she has a breathing problem when he or she is awake. In fact, the person’s breathing patterns may be very normal when the person is awake. When they are asleep, they are not, obviously, aware of their problem.
Interestingly enough, sleep apnea sufferers don’t become aware of their problem even after their apnea wakes them up from their sleep. This is the hidden danger of sleep apnea that makes it such a killer. It would take a loved one sharing the same bed as the sufferer to notice and inform the sufferer of his or her abnormal breathing patterns during sleep. Sometimes a sleep apnea test is done when a patient complains to their doctor of snoring, insomnia or fatigue – another way that a sleep apnea diagnosis can occur.
Brain Activity During Sleep Apnea
The main reason why there aren’t more people dying of the oxygen deprivation caused by sleep apnea is an automatic process in the brain. When a person stops breathing, the level of carbon dioxide in that person’s bloodstream increases. Chemoreceptors found in the blood detect the high carbon dioxide levels and these chemoreceptors send triggers to the apnea sufferer’s brain. The brain then wakes up the body so the person can breathe oxygen. This might result in a startled response, and the person might wake up gasping for air. Once the proper oxygen levels are reached, the sufferer will then go back to sleep.
An apnea sufferer goes through this process several times in the span of one night. It is no wonder many apnea sufferers don’t feel rested, or feel weak after having ‘slept’ a full eight hours.
Sleep Apnea Is More Common in Overweight People
One of the most common causes of sleep apnea is obstruction. Usually this is found in people who are very overweight. Their respiratory tract is wrapped by so much fat or tissue that their breathing pattern during sleep is obstructed. In terms of impact, people with sleep apnea often feel tired, irritable, and can experience memory loss and lack of attentiveness. In many cases, the impact on sleep apnea sufferers is the same as people with insomnia.
Sleep Apnea Diagnosis
The biggest challenge with sleep apnea is getting diagnosed. Since you’re sleeping when it strikes, there is no way for you to tell for certain that you’re suffering from this disorder. It is a good idea to get someone to observe you, or to keep a log or journal of your sleeping patterns. There are also sleep monitoring devices now available that can help you identify frequent disturbances in your sleep, even if you don’t remember them in the morning.
If you have a reason to believe you may be suffering from sleep apnea, get tested for central or obstructive apnea soon so your physician can recommend practical solutions. Sleep apnea can be dangerous, and always impacts quality sleep, which we know is one of many factors which support losing weight.
Sleep apnea is usually diagnosed by wearing a medical monitor during a full night’s sleep.
Losing Weight is the Top Cure
If it turns out that you have a positive diagnosis of sleep apnea, side sleeping, a change in pillows, dental appliances, a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, or even minor upper airway surgery may be options, depending on the severity. Lifestyle changes, particularly weight loss, can also assist or resolve sleep apnea problems. It is also helpful for those diagnosed with sleep apnea to avoid alcohol and smoking.
In fact, weight loss is the primary method for curing sleep apnea – other methods (except surgery) only treat symptoms.