|Sleep apnea is a condition characterized by episodes in which breathing stops during sleep. These episodes of stopped breathing usually last for 10 seconds or more, sometimes more than 300 times a night. This condition is potentially life threatening causing significant social and emotional problems, and hampering day to day living. People with sleep apnea will awaken partially as they struggle to breathe, but in the morning will be unaware of any sleep disturbances ever occurring.
There are two main types of sleep apnea – obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea: is the most common type of sleep apnea and is caused by the relaxation of soft tissue in the back of the throat that obstructs the airway passage. When you try to breathe, there isn’t sufficient air as a result of the blockage. The blockage may be due to your windpipe being blocked by your tongue, tonsils, uvula or the fatty tissue in your throat.
Central sleep apnea: is a rare type of sleep apnea that is associated with the function of the central nervous system. It occurs when the area of the brain that controls your breathing does not send the correct signals to the breathing muscles. This means that there is no effort to breathe at all for brief periods. With central apnea, snoring does not usually occur.
It is estimated that sleep apnea affects more than 12 million Americans. It is more common in men (over 40 years old) than women, and in people who are overweight or obese.
Additional medical problems associated with untreated sleep apnea include hypertension, coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction, stroke, psychiatric problems, impotence, cognitive dysfunction, memory loss, and death.