Common yet serious, obstructive sleep apnea is a condition where a person will stop breathing while asleep. The repeated blocking of air causes less or no air to reach the lungs, and this leads to loud snoring and choking sounds during sleep. The brain detects a lack of oxygen and the person can awaken momentarily. It can happen a handful of times each night or even hundreds of times per night.
An apnea or pause in breathing is normally a result of collapsed tissue at the back of the throat. The upper airway muscles relax, and when sleeping on your back, the tongue can fall back as well, narrowing the throat’s airway and reducing oxygen intake. This restricted passage of air causes snoring when the throat’s tissue vibrates from breathing.
Those with obstructive sleep apnea or OSA will often feel fatigued in the morning and will generally find sleep less refreshing. They may find that they cannot concentrate throughout the day and may even find themselves dozing off. This tiredness is a result of the body being woken up repeatedly by the brain to remind it to breathe throughout the night.
Some negative consequences that can result from sleep apnea’s oxygen deprivation include depression, pre-diabetes and diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.
Countless people who have sleep apnea do not seek treatment and often do not get diagnosed. Specialists will typically discern obstructive sleep apnea in a person using a home sleep test or through in-lab testing. Continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP therapy is currently the most effective treatment, but surgery and oral appliance therapy are alternatives as well.
The causes and symptoms for sleep apnea in a child and central sleep apnea are different than those of obstructive sleep apnea.
Below are common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Daytime tiredness and fatigue
- Depression or moodiness
- Waking with headaches
- Waking with sore throat or dry mouth
- Breathing pauses during sleep
- Loud and/or persistent snoring
- Gasping and choking while asleep
- Issues with cognitive ability (i.e. memory and learning)
- Needing to urinate more often at night
People More At Risk
Obstructive sleep affects more than just overweight men who are older. It can take its toll on any gender, body type, or age group. Those with any of the following characteristics could be more at risk of having sleep apnea:
- A Large Neck: A bigger neck means more fatty tissues that can impede breathing at night. 17 inches is considered large for males while 16 is large for females.
- Smoker: Smoking affects airways and increases the likelihood of getting sleep apnea.
- High Blood Pressure: Being hypertensive is a common trait of those with sleep apnea.
- Older Aged: Sleep apnea is far more prevalent in those over 60, but males over 40 and females over 50 are generally more susceptible as well.
- Male: Males are twice as likely as females to get sleep apnea.
- Family History: Those with a family history of sleep apnea can expect an increased risk; this could be a result of similar lifestyle choices or genetically inherited characteristics.
- Overweight: A BMI upwards of 25 is usually considered overweight. More excess weight means you are more at risk.