What is Sleep Apnea?


Video about Sleep Apnea:


Sleep Apnea is a breathing disorder that occurs during sleep. The Greek word “apnea” literally means “without breath.” There are three types of apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed; of the three, obstructive is the most common. Despite the difference in the root cause of each type, in all three, people with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night and often for a minute or longer.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep. In central sleep apnea, the airway is not blocked but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. Mixed apnea, as the name implies, is a combination of the two. With each apnea event, the brain briefly arouses people with sleep apnea in order for them to resume breathing, but consequently sleep is extremely fragmented and of poor quality.

Sleep apnea is very common, as common as adult diabetes, and affects more than twelve million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Risk factors include being male, overweight, and over the age of forty, but sleep apnea can strike anyone at any age, even children. Yet still because of the lack of awareness by the public and healthcare professionals, the vast majority remain undiagnosed and therefore untreated, despite the fact that this serious disorder can have significant consequences.
Untreated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency, and headaches. Moreover, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for job impairment and motor vehicle crashes. Fortunately, sleep apnea can be diagnosed and treated. Several treatment options exist, and research into additional options continues.


Difference between normal breathing, snoring, Sleep Apnea, and breathing with CPAP:
The following link has an interesting video graphic showing the difference between normal breathin, snoring, sleep apnea, and sleep apnea using CPAP:
**Link to article on Obstructive Sleep Apnea** -- article by sleepeducation.com, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, dated January 12, 2006



The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute provide this description of what causes sleep apnea:
Link to online article by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

Sleep apnea happens when enough air cannot move into your lungs while you are sleeping. When you are awake, and normally during sleep, your throat muscles keep your throat open and air flows into your lungs. In obstructive sleep apnea, however, the throat briefly collapses, causing pauses in your breathing. With pauses in breathing, the oxygen level in your blood may drop. This happens if the following conditions occur:
  • Your throat muscles and tongue relax more than is normal.
  • Your tonsils and adenoids are large.
  • You are overweight. The extra soft tissue in your throat makes it harder to keep the throat area open.
  • The shape of your head and neck (bony structure) results in somewhat smaller airway size in the mouth and throat area.
With the throat frequently fully or partly blocked during sleep, enough air cannot flow into your lungs, even though your efforts to breathe continue. Your breathing may become hard and noisy and may even stop for short periods of time (apneas).