What Causes Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is defined as a condition in which there are brief periods when breathing is stopped during sleep and is caused by obstruction of the airway and is associated with excessive daytime sleepiness.
Central Sleep Apnea
This type of sleep apnea 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 because it caused by the airway being completely closed off or obstructed. 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. The patient is now completely without oxygen!!
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, you have an arousal from sleep, and you come out of the stage of sleep you were in just enough to open your airway and save your life. You don't go back to the stage of sleep you were in when the event occurred, you go back to stage 1 of sleep--you may never get to stage 5 of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep if this happens a lot. Some patients have this happen every minute during what they think is 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 a very high percentage of those who snore have obstructive sleep apnea--maybe 70-90% . 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. About 90% of those who have obstructive sleep apnea are undiagnosed. Estimated go as high as almost 50 million is the USA alone.
Obstructive sleep apnea treatment can involve lifestyle changes, surgery, a CPAP machine to keep your airway open, or a simple oral device 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!