Sleep apnea is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition. It's far more common than thought. It happens in all age groups and both genders, but it's more common in men. Over 20 million Americans have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. There are 3 types of sleep apnea:
Obstructive sleep apnea happens when air can’t flow into or out of the nose or mouth although efforts to breathe continue.
Central sleep apnea happens when the brain fails to send the right signals to the muscles to start breathing. Central sleep apnea is less common than obstructive sleep apnea.
Complex sleep apnea. This is a mix of symptoms found in both central and obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea causes involuntary breathing pauses or "apneic events" during a single night's sleep. There may be as many as 20 to 30 or more events per hour. Between events you may snore. But, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Sleep apnea may also make you feel like you are choking. The frequent interruptions of deep, restorative sleep often lead to early morning headaches and excessive daytime sleepiness.
During the apneic event, you can’t breathe in oxygen or exhale carbon dioxide. This results in low levels of oxygen and increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. This alerts the brain to resume breathing and cause an arousal. With each arousal, a signal is sent from the brain to the upper airway muscles to open the airway. Breathing is resumed, often with a loud snort or gasp. Frequent arousals, although necessary for breathing to restart, prevent restorative, deep sleep.
Early recognition and treatment of sleep apnea is important, as it may be associated with: