Understanding Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that causes breathing to pause periodically throughout the night. While these breathing pauses will not cause you to wake directly, they will disrupt your sleeping pattern and prevent you from getting deep, restful sleep. Sleep apnea is the leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness, and may therefore negatively influence your quality of life.
People who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk for obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form of the sleep disorder.
Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Excessive snoring that is often interrupted by choking or gasping sounds
- Headaches upon waking in the morning
- Excessive daytime fatigue
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Dry mouth or sore throat in the morning
- Difficulty concentrating during the day
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea develops when the airway collapses or becomes blocked for short intervals during the night. This often happens when the muscles located in the back of the throat relax. This causes the airway to become narrowed, reducing the flow of air to the lungs and ultimately limiting the level of oxygen in the blood.
As the airway becomes blocked, breathing will pause. The pause generally lasts between several seconds and one minute. In severe cases, breathing pauses may happen as often as 30 times in the course of an hour, throughout the entire night.
While you likely won’t recall waking during the night, the regular breathing interruptions will disrupt your sleep enough to leave you tired in the morning.
Diagnosis & Treatment for Sleep Apnea
You may experience some of the daytime symptoms of sleep apnea without realizing the cause of the problem. Sleep apnea is often brought to attention through a loved one who is disturbed by the excessive snoring.
If suspected, sleep apnea can be confirmed through an overnight sleep study in which sleeping behaviors and breathing patterns are monitored throughout the night.
Obstructive sleep apnea is treated through a combination of medical intervention, home based therapy, and in severe cases surgery. The most reliable method of treatment is with the use of a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) device, which works by delivering a continuous stream of air gently into the airway through a mask that sits over the nose and mouth.
Losing weight often helps reduce the severity of obesity-related diseases like sleep apnea. Many people who struggle with sleep apnea often find relief from the disorder following weight loss surgery.