Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder which causes interruptions in breathing during sleep. This is caused by the muscles of the throat relaxing, blocking the airway in the region at the rear of the throat. The lack of oxygen causes a person to come out of deep sleep into a lighter stage of sleep, or wake up, in order to restart breathing. This process can be repeated throughout the night. These interruptions to sleep that are caused by sleep apnea often cause daytime exhaustion. A person with sleep apnea will usually have no recall of what has occurred overnight, so are often unaware that they are not sleeping through the night. The condition is most common in people aged 40 or over, although it can affect people of all ages. It is more common in men, particularly overweight middle-aged or older men.
Because of the sleep deprivation that results, sleep apnea often has a significant impact on an individual's health. If left untreated, this disorder can lead to a compromised immune system, heart disease, high blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, and learning/memory problems. Judgement and reaction times are also impaired making undiagnosed drivers a danger on the road. One in five cases of sleep apnea are linked to depression in the sufferer. Sleep apnea does seem to run in families and may therefore be genetic, though physical factors can contribute. Apnea should not be confused with snoring, which does not involve complete blockage of the airway, though sufferers can often snore as well.
Some of the associated symptoms that characterise sleep apnea include:
There are some simple measures and lifestyle changes you can make to alleviate sleep apnea. These include:
If you suffer from a more serious case of sleep apnea you may require a consultation with a medical doctor. The following may be recommended:
If you suspect you or a partner suffer from sleep apnea see your doctor or naturopath.