A Detailed Look at Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition seen amongst both children and adults, which can lead to many serious complications if not dealt with properly in time. The sleep disorder is often categorized by heavy snoring, where the patient experiences repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. 

There are two main types of sleep apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). OSA is the more common form of sleep disorder, which occurs when the throat muscles of the patient relax during sleep and constrict the airway. CSA, on the contrary, occurs when the patient’s brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles to control normal breathing during sleep. Apart from these two, some people are also diagnosed with Mixed Sleep Apnea or Complex Sleep Apnea, a condition where the patient experiences both OSA and CSA.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

OSA and CSA can have similar symptoms, which makes it somewhat difficult to diagnose which type of sleep disorder the patient has. That is why doctors recommend a sleep test to diagnose the disorder and understand its extent. Below are some of the common signs and symptoms of both types of sleep apnea.

  • Heavy snoring
  • Difficulty in breathing and gasping for air during sleep
  • Waking up with a dried mouth
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Insomnia
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty to focus 
  • Low motivation to perform day-to-day physical tasks

If you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms and/or your partner notices any pauses in breathing when you are asleep, you should consult with a doctor at the nearest community healthcare center as soon as possible. Note that the sleep disorder can lead to many serious physical and psychological health issues, which can be avoided if you treated sleep apnea in time.

Causes of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea occurs when soft tissues in the mouth and back of the throat block the airway. As the narrowing of the airway limits the supply of air, it reduces the level of oxygen in the blood. This triggers the brain to wake you up from sleep to breathe in an adequate amount of air. Usually, this awakening is so brief that you barely remember that in the morning. However, when this happens repeatedly, you would snort or gasp for air regularly, which disrupts your ability to reach deep sleep phases.

Central Sleep Apnea is less common than OSA, but it can have serious complications on the overall health of the person too. It occurs when the brain cannot transmit signals to the muscles that control breathing, which means that the patient can experience short pauses in breathing throughout the night. This condition makes you wake up gasping for air regularly, which in turn disrupts normal sleep.

OSA is mostly seen in obese people who have more fat deposits around the upper airway and in the back of the throat. People with thicker necks and tongues are also at greater risk of developing the sleep disorder. At the same time, OSA is also common among those who consume an excessive amount of alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or use sedatives or other medications that could relax the muscles in the throat. Sometimes, this condition can also be triggered by an anatomical deformity or nasal congestion.

CSA is more common in people who are diagnosed with any type of heart disease or are using narcotic pain medications or opioids to treat pain. It is also seen that those who have had a stroke are at greater risk of developing this type of sleep apnea.

Complications of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can trigger many serious medical conditions, which can affect both your physical health and psychological wellbeing. Waking up regularly during the night can make you very tired and lead to irritability, fatigue, and daytime drowsiness. This can be very dangerous for people who need to drive during daytime or have to work with heavy machinery, as low focus due to tiredness and sleepiness can lead to many accidents.

Lack of proper sleep would also take a toll on your mood and could lead to frequent mood swings, anxiety issues, and depression. Type 2 diabetes and liver problems are also associated with sleep apnea. Besides, sleep apnea can also cause high blood pressure and other heart problems, as the low level of oxygen in the blood strain the cardiovascular system. This can, in turn, increase the risk of heart attack, atrial fibrillation, and stroke.

Having sleep apnea also puts you at the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a condition where the patient experiences high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels, which in turn increases the risk of heart diseases. If you already have heart disease, recurrent episodes of sleep apnea can even lead to sudden death due to low blood oxygen and irregular heartbeat.