Senior woman laying head on pillow in bed struggling to fall asleep.

Sleep Apnea

If someone said to you that while you’re asleep, your breathing is stopping anywhere from 5 to 25 times per minute, you might freak out, right? Well, that exact situation is plaguing millions of people in this country. It is called sleep apnea and it comes in three forms:

1.  Obstructive sleep apnea
2.  Central sleep apnea
3.  Complex sleep apnea (a combination of the two forms above)

For simplicity sake, we will lump all three forms into the same general category called, sleep apnea; which is a breathing disorder that starts and stops during your sleep period. Some of the symptoms of sleep apnea are:

•  Excessive daytime sleepiness
•  Loud snoring, which is usually more prominent in obstructive sleep apnea
•  Observed episodes of breathing cessation during sleep
•  Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath, which more likely indicates central sleep apnea
•  Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
•  Morning headache
•  Difficulty staying asleep

In general, sleep apnea is caused by either your brain failing to transmit the proper breathing signals to your breathing muscles or, more likely, the muscles in the back of your throat relaxing which causes your airway to close as you take in a breathe, then causing you to gasp for breath.

With causations in mind, it is important to be aware of the potential risk factors for sleep apnea. They might be:

•  Excessive weight
•  Neck circumference greater than 17 inches
•  High blood pressure
•  A narrowed airway
•  Being male
•  Being older than 65
•  Family history of sleep apnea
•  Use of alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers
•  Smoking
•  Prolonged sitting
•  Heart disorders

There are certain tests that a physician may perform to evaluate your situation/condition, such as:

•  Nocturnal polysomnography – electronic equipment monitors your heart, lungs, brain activity, breathing, leg and arm movements, and blood oxygen levels.
•  Potable monitoring devices – a halter monitor that is worn while you sleep and performs other regular functions during the day.

Treatments for sleep apnea may include:

•  Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP or SEE-CPAP) – you wear a mask that provides air pressure to keep your airway open during potential periods of sleep apnea.
•  Adjustable airway pressure devices – devices that offer fluctuating air pressure to meet your particular needs.
•  Oral appliances – devices that keep your throat open, i.e., by moving your jaw forward.
•  Surgery – several various methods all designed to “remove excess tissue from your nose or throat that may be blocking upper air passages and causing sleep apnea.”

Please don’t take this condition lightly. Pay attention to yourself or your partner whenever you detect any of the following conditions:

•  Snoring loud enough to disturb the sleep of others or yourself
•  Shortness of breath that awakens you from sleep
•  Intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep
•  Excessive daytime drowsiness, which may cause you to fall asleep while you work, watching television or even driving

If you do notice any of these symptoms in yourself or your partner, you should seriously consider consulting your physician for a sleep apnea evaluation … it could save a life – maybe your own.

Reference: Sleep Apnea, by the Mayo Clinic staff.

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