Understanding sleep apnea (SA) is crucial for anyone who suffers from it. It’s a condition that happens when breathing is interrupted during sleep and oxygen levels in the brain drop, causing difficulty breathing and/or waking up in the middle of the night.
“Sleep apnea” is a misleading term, because it suggests that the problem is with breathing, when, in fact, it’s with rest. Sleep apnea occurs when someone stops breathing for 10 seconds or more at a time while they’re sleeping. The most common symptoms include loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, tiredness upon waking, and heartburn that occurs while sleeping.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea and occurs when throat muscles relax during sleep. The airway narrows or collapses, reducing airflow, and causing the oxygen level in blood to drop.
Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to muscles that control breathing. This type of sleep apnea is less common than OSA and often occurs together with OSA.
About 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea.
The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness,
- Loud snoring,
- Observed episodes of breathing cessation during sleep,
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping or choking,
- Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat,
- Morning headache,
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia), and
- Difficulty paying attention while awake.
Early detection and treatment of this condition can significantly improve quality of life while reducing health care costs. The good news is that there are several ways to detect sleep apnea:
- An overnight sleep test at a sleep center. A technician monitors you during the night, watching for signs of apnea and interruptions in your breathing while you’re sleeping.
- A home sleep test (HST). An HST records certain body functions while you sleep. The device is smaller than those used in sleep centers and can be more convenient, but it’s not as accurate in diagnosing all types of sleep apnea or other sleep-related problems.