What is Sleep Apnea?

Do you frequently wake up during your sleep? Do you feel tired when you wake up every morning? Do you feel lethargic and have difficulty concentrating during the day? If the answer to the above questions is yes, then you might be suffering from sleep apnea. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that around 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. 

So, what is sleep apnea, and how can it be treated? This article explains everything you need to know about sleep apnea disorder.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Apnea refers to the frequent cessation of breathing. According to SleepFoundation.org, sleep apnea is a condition that is characterized by abnormal breathing cycles during sleep. Recognized as one of the most common sleeping disorders in America, the irregular breathing pattern caused by sleep apnea during sleep can have a long-lasting effect on one’s health – such as reduced sleep quality and low blood oxygen saturation. 

What are Different Types of Sleep Apnea?

There are three different types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea – this type of sleep apnea is characterized by the physical blockage of the airway during sleep – leading to temporary cessation in breathing. According to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, about 54 million US citizens have obstructive sleep apnea. 
  •  Central Sleep Apnea – Central sleep apnea occurs when there is a problem with the nervous system that controls the activity of the muscles involved in breathing. In this type of apnea, the breathing becomes slower and shallower. 
  • Mixed Sleep Apnea – mixed sleep apnea occurs when an individual suffers from both obstructive and central sleep apnea. 

How Do I Know if I Have Sleep Apnea?

If you have any of the following problems, then you may be suffering from sleep apnea:

  • Disruptive or labored breathing during sleep – this is often observed by a partner or a loved one. 
  • Daytime sleepiness 
  • Sluggishness during the day 
  • Lack of focus or attention during the day
  • Irritability 

Other symptoms that are associated with obstructive sleep apnea are:

  • Snoring – often loud enough to wake your partner
  • Gasping or chocking that may cause you to wake up momentarily
  • Sore throat or dry mouth in the morning 
  • Frequently waking up for urinating – due to shallow sleep

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by anything that obstructs the airway. Some of the risk factors for sleep apnea include:

  • Anatomical – the size and position of the neck, jaw, tonsils, and tongue can affect airflow. People with a large tongue or swollen tonsils suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. 
  • Obesity – according to SleepFoundation.org, obesity increases the risk of having obstructive apnea by 60% – as it contributes to the narrowing of the airway. 
  • Sedatives and Alcohol – sedative medicines and alcoholic beverages cause the throat muscles to relax, thereby causing airway obstruction. 
  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • Nasal congestion 
  • Hormonal Imbalance – conditions caused by hormonal abnormalities, like hyperthyroidism or excessive production of the growth hormone (acromegaly), can also cause obstructive sleep apnea. 

Central sleep apnea, on the other hand, occurs because of miscommunication between the muscles of the throat and the brain. Mainly, the brain does not accurately perceive the level of carbon dioxide in the blood, leading to a reduced breathing rate. Sometimes, the breathing rate becomes too low that the breathing stops altogether for a moment. Central sleep apnea can occur because of a stroke, head injury, brain tumors, or medications that interfere with the brain’s functioning. 

Health Consequences of Sleep Apnea 

If left untreated, sleep apnea causes serious medical problems that can prove life-threatening. Here are some of the health risks associated with prolonged, untreated sleep apnea:

  • Reduced Efficiency – inability to get enough sleep causes daytime sleepiness, lethargy, and difficulty to focus. This will not only hurt your overall health but also significantly reduce your work efficiency. 
  • Heart Problems – according to the American Sleep Association, sleep apnea puts excessive pressure on your cardiovascular system to regulate your blood’s oxygen levels. This can lead to heart failure, stroke, or heart attack. 
  • Diabetes – there is a high prevalence of type II diabetes in patients suffering from sleep apnea, according to research published in Frontiers in Neurology.
  • Decreased Immunity – the inability to get sufficient sleep and rest can also result in a considerable reduction in the body’s immunity to fight infections.  

 Sleep apnea can have a severe impact on your physical health and wellbeing. The good news is that no matter what causes it, it is manageable. So, talk to your physician or one of our top Chicago dentists today at 773-481-2200. Get the treatment you need and say hello to a healthy and active lifestyle.