Sleep Apnea

Snoring is often viewed as a nuisance, but it might be a sign of sleep apnea – a potentially dangerous condition in which breathing stops or is suppressed during sleep. This can occur repeatedly throughout the night, putting strain on the heart and increasing your risk of developing a serious complication such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, or diabetes.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing. An individual suffering from sleep apnea awakens throughout the night, often with a choke or gasp, to resume breathing – though he or she may be completely unaware this is happening.

Sleep apnea robs the body of quality, restorative sleep; the result is daytime fatigue and drowsiness.

These breathing pauses may last as long as 30 seconds, and can occur hundreds of times a night. As a result, you spend most of your time in a light sleep, rather than in deep REM sleep that is crucial for keeping you mentally alert and productive. Additionally, cessations in breathing cause the oxygen levels in your blood to drop, putting strain on your heart and lungs and increasing your risk of developing serious – even deadly – health complications. Contributing factors to sleep apnea include nasal obstruction, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, and weight gain. A thorough head and neck examination and a sleep study are frequently used to diagnose this disorder.

The main symptom of sleep apnea is loud, chronic snoring. You may also wake up with a dry mouth and experience morning headaches and sore throat. A cumulative lack of deep sleep leads to excessive daytime drowsiness and can affect your concentration and memory. Stress, irritability, and depression are common.

How Can I Control Sleep Apnea?

Mild cases of sleep apnea may be managed by incorporating lifestyle changes into your routine. These include losing weight, sleeping on your side, and giving up alcohol and tobacco products. Nasal strips and oral appliances may also help.

More serious cases are usually treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This is a device that sends controlled bursts of air through a tube to a mask worn during sleep, keeping the airways from collapsing. A number of surgical options are available, as well.