What Causes Sleep Apnea?
Websters dictionary defines apnea as: “brief periods of recurrent cessation of breathing during sleep that is caused especially by obstruction of the airway or a disturbance in the brain's respiratory center and is associated especially with excessive daytime sleepiness”.
That is a dictionary clinical explanation of sleep apnea. Let’s look a bit more in depth in simpler terms. As the definition says, there is more than one kind of sleep apnea.
Central Sleep Apnea
The first type is central sleep apnea. This type occurs when the brain doesn't send proper signals that tell you to breathe. Fortunately central sleep apnea is uncommon and is detected in the sleep test.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. It lives up to its name simply by the fact that in a relaxed state, the back of the tongue actually falls back or is sucked back in your throat, narrowing or completely closing off your airway.
As this is happening a snoring sound is heard as the airway gets smaller and the speed of the air moving increases. When the airway closes off completely, the snoring sound will stop.
When this happens the lungs have the impossible task of trying to move air in and out. The brain is alerted that carbon dioxide levels are increasing and oxygen levels are dropping. Immediate action is needed! You can live about 3 weeks without food, about 3 days without water, but only about 3 minutes without oxygen! Thus your brain alerts you and you come out of the stage of sleep you were in just enough to move your tongue and save your life. You then go back to stage 1 of sleep--you may never get to stage 5 of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
This can happen as often as 100 times every hour for 10 seconds at a time! And the average obstruction lasts 30 seconds! Obstructive sleep apnea is serious. This kind of low quality sleep will certainly cause health issues and quality of life will suffer because of it.
Not all snoring is from sleep apnea. Just because someone snores doesn't mean that they have obstructive sleep apnea…But 70% of those who snore have obstructive sleep apnea . Proper sleep testing is the only way to be sure.
Who Gets Sleep Apnea
Men and women of any age can have obstructive sleep apnea--from infants to senior citizens. It is not a disease--it is a condition and it is TOTALLY treatable. Obstructive sleep apnea is a structural problem that can be inherited or caused by various things including, but not limited to weight gain, medications, certain foods, tonsils, whiplash, etc. If mom and dad have it, the kids most likely have it too.
Obstructive sleep apnea treatment can involve lifestyle changes, surgery, a machine to keep your airway open (CPAP, BiPAP, AutoPAP), or a simple oral appliance worn in your mouth at night to keep your jaw and tongue forward during sleep known as a mandibular advancement device (MAD).
You need to be tested. A person with obstructive sleep apnea will lose an average of 8 to 10 years off their life!