A common disorder, sleep apnea is characterized by disturbed or interrupted breathing while sleeping. The pauses in breathing could be as short as ten seconds to a few minutes. Typically, the breathing may pause twenty to thirty times in an hour, making sleep apnea a serious disorder. Sleep apnea is a chronic disorder that leads to poor quality of sleep, often leaving you tired the next day.
There are two types of sleep apnea:
Obstructive sleep apnea – airflow into the lungs through the mouth and nose is blocked, interrupting breathing. Attempts to breathe normally results in a snorting or choking sound.
Central sleep apnea – occurs due to inability of the brain to send signals to muscles that control breathing. There is no airway obstruction in central sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common than central sleep apnea. It is caused due to excessive relaxation of muscles at the back of your throat, which results in blocking of the airways leading to your lungs. In babies and small children, obstructive sleep apnea may be caused due to enlarged tonsils.
As your breathing is interrupted, you may wake up for a short while with a choking or loud snoring sound to restore your breathing, but never realize that your sleep was interrupted as it is usually very brief. This can happen anywhere between five to thirty times in an hour, causing much discomfort for people who sleep with you.
The constant interruptions in your sleep prevent you from going into deep, restful sleep, making you tired when you finally wake up. It also causes daytime sleepiness, even though you may think you rested well at night. Besides daytime sleepiness and fatigue, interrupted breathing which causes lower oxygen levels can also put a strain on your cardiovascular system, making you more susceptible to cardiovascular disorders.
People with sleep apnea also have to be cautious with the use of certain medications and general anaesthesia, as these can worsen airway obstruction. Chances of post-surgery complications are also high for people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, and that’s why you must inform your doctor about your obstructive sleep apnea before any surgical procedure.
Overweight people, smokers, those with a family history of obstructive sleep apnea, alcohol consumers, diabetics, and people with high blood pressure disorder are at greater risk for developing sleep apnea. Having a thick neck, which can obstruct the airways or having chronic nasal congestion also put you at a higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea.