Sleep Apnea FAQ

Everything you need to know about Sleep Apnea

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. The term apnea can be translated to “without breath” and refers to a breathing pause that lasts as short as 10 seconds to over a minute. This involuntary pause in breathing can result either from a blocked airway or signaling problem in the brain, meaning the brain and rest of the body may not be getting the oxygen they require. Once the airway is opened back up or the brain receives the required breathing signal, the person will exabit disruptive sleep patterns that may be characterized as a snorting, deep breathing, or waking up completely.

The most common types of sleep apnea are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
  • Central sleep apnea (CSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea vs. Central sleep apnea

Though there are several types of sleep apnea, the two prominent types include obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. It is important to understand the key differences of these sleeping disorders so you can know how to properly treat each one.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea and can be defined as a blockage in your upper airway while you sleep. This blockage is generally due to the muscles and soft tissue in the back of the throat collapsing during sleep, thus narrowing your airway as you breath in. When you can’t get enough air, your chest muscles and diaphragm will work much harder to open up the blocked airway and draw air into the lungs. The brain senses this obstruction and will rouse you from your sleep as an attempt to open up your airways. This awakening is typically so brief that many people do not even remember it happening.
  • Central sleep apnea is less common but slightly more severe due to the fact that in this form of apnea, the brain fails to send signals to your breathing muscles as you are sleeping. This means that because of an instability in the respiratory control center, you will unknowingly make no effort to breath for short periods of time during sleep. Unlike OSA, this problem is not caused by a blockage of the airway, but rather a blockage in communication between the brain and muscles that control breathing. CSA is commonly associated with underlying illnesses that affect the lower brain stem (the part of your central nervous system that controls breathing patterns.)

What causes sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea can be caused by a number of factors, though the most common risks associated with sleep apnea include:

  • Being overweight
  • Being over the age of 40
  • Having a large neck size (17 in. or greater for men, 16 in. or greater for women)
  • Having large tonsils
  • Having a large tongue
  • Having a small jawbone
  • Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, excess allergies, or severe sinus problems)
  • Having a family history of sleep apnea
  • Menopause or post menopause
  • Smoking and alcohol use
  • Ethnicity (more common in African-Americans, Pacific-Islanders, and Hispanics)

How common is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is very common, affecting more than 18 million Americans according to the National Sleep Foundation. Studies have found that 1 in 5 adults have mild symptoms of OSA, while 1 in 15 display moderate-to-sever- symptoms. Though sleep apnea occurs in all age groups and sexes, it is most commonly seen in overweight males over the age of 40. With that being said, recent studies conducted by the American Journal of Epidemiology have found that by the age of menopause, 20% or more of women will develop sleep apnea due to reductions in estrogen levels. Though all of these conclusions can give us a ball park idea of how common sleep apnea is, lack of awareness by the public and many health care professionals have resulted in the vast majority of sleep apnea patients remaining undiagnosed, and therefore untreated despite the seriousness of the disorder.

How do you know if you have sleep apnea?

Out of the 18 million Americas who are affected bysleep apnea, it is said that only 20% of people have been diagnosed and treated. In most cases however, the person suffering from sleep apnea is unaware of any breath stoppages because their type of disorder does not trigger a full awakening. Some signs that may indicate that you are suffering from sleep apnea include:

  • Waking up with a sore or dry throat
  • Waking up with a sensation of gasping, smothering, or choking
  • Loud snoring
  • Morning headaches
  • Drowsy driving
  • Brain fog
  • Unexplained mood changes
  • Persistent fatigue during the day
  • Restless sleep
  • Recurrent awakenings or insomnia

Though these are pretty good indications that on one is suffering from sleep apnea, there will not always be a plethora of symptoms present. If you think there is a possibility you have some sort of sleeping disorder, contact the professionals at Sleep Dynamics centers in NJ to have a consultation with one of our highly qualified sleep physicians.

How is sleep apnea treated?

Treatment for sleep apnea ranges from lifestyle changes to surgery. Some simple behaviors that you can incorporate into your life to help treat mild cases of sleep apnea include losing weight, avoiding drugs (such as alcohol, tobacco, and sleeping pills), and changing your sleeping positions (avoid sleeping on back). Though lifestyle changes are a great way to mitigate symptoms of sleep apnea, it is best to get a professional’s opinion on the type of treatment option is right for you and your type of sleep apnea. The most common methods used to treat sleep apnea include:

  • Airway Pressure (CPAP) CPAP is a treatment used to treatment in which a mask is worn over the nose and mouth while sleeping to keep your airways open using mild air pressure. This form of treatment helps ensure that your airways will not collapse as you are breathing while sleeping and is a highly recommended option for those suffering from sleep apnea.
  • Dental sleep medicineDental sleep medicine is a specialized area that focuses on treating sleep-disordered breathing through custom-fit oral appliance therapy. Worn only during sleep, an oral appliance fits like a sports mouth guard or an orthodontic retainer. It supports the jaw in a forward position to help maintain an open upper airway. Research shows that oral appliance therapy is an effective treatment option for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. 

Can you cure sleep apnea with a CPAP machine?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, CPAP is the leading therapy for sleep apnea. The majority of people who use CPAP find immediate symptom relief and find that they are finally able to control their apnea. CPAP has been known to fully resolve sleep apnea, but only when it is properly and regularly used. 

What are the effects of sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition and if untreated, can cause serious health complications over time. These effects include:

  • Extreme daytime fatigue
  • High blood pressure or heart problems
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Complications with medications or surgery
  • Liver problems
  • Sleep-deprivation in sleeping partners

Can you die from sleep apnea?

Untreated sleep apnea can increase your risk of multiple diseases that can lead to death. Additionally, moderate-to-severe sleep apnea may also increase your risk of recurrent heart attack. If you have heart disease, multiple episodes of low blood oxygen can lead to abnormal heartbeats and sudden death.

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