What should I know about sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that is potentially life-threatening, depending on the severity. Sleep apnea happens when enough air cannot move into the lungs causing breathing to stop or get very shallow while you sleep and awaken you by the inability to breathe.
Each pause in breathing typically lasts 10 to 20 seconds or more and these pauses can occur over 30 times per hour. The cessation of breath is usually caused by the collapse of the pharynx at the back of the throat, which constricts the airway. Those with sleep apnea may find themselves frequently waking up in the middle of the night which can lead to symptoms of fatigue, depression, apathy and excessive daytime sleepiness.
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea.
During sleep, air cannot flow into the lungs through the mouth and nose due to increased airway resistance even though there is effort to breathe. When this happens, the amount of oxygen in the blood drops. Normal breaths then start again with a loud snort or choking sound.
With sleep apnea you may move out of deep sleep and into light sleep several times during the night, resulting in poor sleep quality. People with sleep apnea often have loud snoring. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Some people with sleep apnea don’t even know they snore.
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Sleep apnea is more prevalent in people who are overweight, but even thin people can have it. Unfortunately many people have absolutely no idea that they have sleep apnea because it’s difficult to know you are having problems breathing while you are sleeping. There is a good chance that a family member may notice the signs of sleep apnea first.
Untreated sleep apnea can increase the chance of having high blood pressure and even a heart attack or stroke. Untreated sleep apnea can also increase the risk of diabetes and the risk for work-related accidents and driving accidents.