Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the soft tissue in a person’s throat repeatedly collapses and blocks the airway during sleep. These obstructions in breathing typically last between 10-30 seconds, but can persist for a minute or longer. These pauses can happen hundreds of times a night, leading to abrupt reductions in blood oxygen levels.
The brain alerts the body to its lack of oxygen, causing a brief arousal from sleep that restores normal breathing. This results in a fragmented quality of sleep that often leads to excessive daytime sleepiness. Most people with OSA snore loudly and frequently, with periods of silence when airflow is reduced or blocked and then make choking, snorting or gasping sounds when their airway reopens.
Imagine how rested and relaxed you would be, if while awake, you held your breathe for 30-60 seconds twenty times in an hour (which a moderate sleep apneic will do). Sleep apnea is a very common sleep disorder. More than 18 million Americans suffer from the condition and it is a major risk factor for not only excessive daytime sleepiness but also the conditions listed below.
Health Risks of Sleep Apnea
- Heart attack
- Muscle pain
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Inefficient metabolism
- Loss of short term memory
- Weight gain
- Gastric reflux
- High blood pressure
- Severe anxiety
- Memory and concentration impairment
- Intellectual deterioration
- Mood swings/temperamental behavior
The National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research estimates that sleep apnea results in 38,000 cardiovascular deaths each year. Therefore, anyone with cardiac risk factors of hypertension, high cholesterol, smoking, positive family history and signs of snoring and apnea should be evaluated for OSA.
Studies in older people with sleep apnea and excessive daytime sleepiness demonstrate lower test scores for cognitive function. In one study 32% of adult apnea patients also had suffered from depression. Studies of children and adolescents with sleep apnea have reported academic underachievement, short attention span, ADD and ADHD.
OSA also affects the bed partner!! It is estimated that partners of apneas lose an average of 1 hour of sleep a night!
The only way to be sure if you have obstructive sleep apnea is to have a sleep test either at home from a qualified sleep physician or in a hospital sleep center, but a score of 9 or above on this test is an indication that you should see your doctor.