When an individual is sleeping and suddenly stops breathing, yet does not wake up, it is likely that that person is suffering from sleep apnea. Caused by an obstruction in one’s airway, the lack of oxygen that occurs when a person is unable to breathe properly when sleeping can result in a number of life-threatening health concerns. This chronic condition often requires some type of medical intervention or lifestyle change in order to decrease these risks or prevent them all together. Also, depending on the type of sleep apnea that is affecting a person’s life, the medical interventions recommended or lifestyle changes required can vary. The following are types of sleep apnea, of which can only be diagnosed by a medical professional:
Obstructive sleep apnea: The most common form of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the throat relax and block a person’s airway. This is also the form of this condition that is most common among those who are overweight or obese.
Central sleep apnea: When an individual’s brain does not send messages to the muscles responsible for regulating a person’s breathing, a person will likely stop breathing during sleep resulting in central sleep apnea.
Mixed sleep apnea: Should a person experience the symptoms synonymous with obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea, he or she will most likely be diagnosed with the mixed type of this medical condition.
Statistics Show More Show Less
It is estimated that approximately eighteen million people in the United States suffer from sleep apnea. Furthermore, sleep apnea is believed to be more prevalent among those who are overweight or obese. Lastly, and according to the National Sleep Association, more African-American and Hispanic men are diagnosed with this medical condition than women and other individuals of different races and ethnicities.
The Causes and Risk Factors of Sleep Apnea Show More Show Less
The direct cause for sleep apnea is a blockage in a person’s airway that prevents breathing when an individual is trying to sleep. However, the cause for the obstruction in airflow that ultimately results in sleep apnea can vary from person to person. And while anyone at any age can develop this medical condition, there are individuals who are at a heightened risk for suffering from sleep apnea.
Among the many causes and contributing factors for sleep apnea, those most at risk for this condition are overweight or obese. Carrying excess body fat, especially around one’s neck, can create a number of breathing problems when trying to fall and stay asleep. Additional weight around the neck puts pressure on the airway, preventing the uninterrupted flow of oxygen, and causing the individual to stop breathing for a period of time.
- Being male
- Family history of sleep apnea
- Having a heart condition
- Having a larger neck circumference
- Having a narrowed airway
- Being overweight
- Having allergies
- Being over the age of 40
- Personal history of substance abuse
- Being a smoker
- Personal history of stroke or brain tumor
- Having nasal congestion
Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea Show More Show Less
There are several telltale signs that suggest an individual is suffering from sleep apnea. In most cases, the symptoms of this condition initially present as partner complaints, as some of the symptoms can disrupt the sleep of another person sleeping in the same room as the sleep apnea sufferer. If you are concerned that you or a loved one is suffering from sleep apnea, it is important to note the presence of any of the following and talk with your doctor about any existing symptoms:
- Suddenly not breathing during sleep, sometimes for a minute or longer
- Snoring, which can be loud and disruptive to others
- Not waking up even when one is not breathing
- Becoming drowsy
- Waking up and being out of breath
- Falling asleep while driving or in situations in which sleep is not typically permitted (e.g., while at work)
- High blood pressure
- Sleepiness during the day
- Development of weight problems or obesity
- Waking up with dry mouth, headache, or sore throat
- Collapsed tissue in the back of one’s throat
- Choking or gasping for air due to not breathing when sleeping
- Frequent urination after waking up
- Difficulty with memory
- Problems with concentration
- Difficulty sustaining attention
- Hindered ability to learn
- Increased irritability due to lack of sleep
- Depressed mood
- Drastic shifts in mood
- Elevated levels of anxiety
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
Effects of Sleep Apnea Show More Show Less
Failing to receive medical care to treat sleep apnea can result in a number of life-threatening concerns. The following effects are those that can be avoided by seeking and receiving appropriate medical interventions and adhering to recommendations set forth by one’s doctor:
- Poor sleep quality
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk for adverse reactions when taking certain medications
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased risk for not being able to properly heal after surgery
- Heart disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Decreased motivation for physical exercise or engaging in pleasurable activities
- Increased risk for injury as a result of accidents caused by drowsiness
- Memory disturbances
- Increased conflict within interpersonal relationships due to disrupted sleep
- Poor work performance
- Weight gain and the potential for obesity
- Fertility concerns
- Problems with liver functioning
- Development of mental health concerns
- Untimely death
Treatment for Sleep Apnea Show More Show Less
In order to conclude an appropriate diagnosis for sleep apnea, a sleep study may be recommended. During a sleep study, a person’s sleep will be monitored by medical professionals to determine if and to what degree oxygen is lacking while an individual sleeps. After completing a sleep study, the individual’s doctor can then determine if and which type of sleep apnea is impacting that person’s quantity and quality of sleep. Once a diagnosis is concluded, methods for treatment can be suggested.
The most common methods for treating sleep apnea can involve surgery, the use of breathing apparatuses, mouth guards, or lifestyle changes. And while not every person diagnosed with sleep apnea will receive a recommendation for surgery, a breathing apparatus, such as a CPAP, or mouth guard, most, if not all, sleep apnea sufferers are urged to live a healthy lifestyle. Especially for those who are overweight or obese, choosing to live a healthier lifestyle can greatly improve the prognosis of a sleep apnea diagnosis. In making better food choices, getting an adequate amount of exercise, and adhering to recommendations from one’s doctor with regards to treating this medical condition, it is possible that an individual’s breathing ability during sleep can improve.
For those individuals who are in need of additional support when trying to lose weight, engaging in a weight management program can be a life-changing decision that poses many benefits. Weight management programs can identify the causes of weight gain, provide invaluable information regarding nutrition, instill skills for making healthy food and lifestyle choices, and assist people in adhering to recommendations set forth by their doctors to manage conditions, such as sleep apnea. It is only within these types of programs that an individual can discover an improved and healthier relationship with food, the confidence to sustain good health, and realize the importance of balancing one’s health, happiness, and overall wellbeing.