What is sleep apnea?

Sleep Apnea

The Cause of Sleep Apnea

As you sleep, the muscles in your throat relax. This lets your throat muscles, and possibly your tongue, sink into your throat, reducing and possibly even closing your airways. This will usually cause snoring, and sometimes your breathing even stops completely many times during the night.

You may or may not wake up when this happens, which is why you may not even be aware of your sleep problems. Your bed partner, however, is likely to be very aware of it and may have told you that your breathing, or snoring, is erratic. It has probably become a source of concern to him or her.

Source: Mayo Clinic Health System

The Symptoms

One of the main symptoms of sleep apnea is that the individual with it will rarely get a good night’s sleep that refreshes. This is because the broken sleep, which the body reacts to, but may not wake the person, prevents them from entering into restful REM sleep.

It is this sleep level that is necessary for healing and refreshing of the body and the mind. A lack of sufficient REM sleep will leave you tired all day and less able to concentrate. The tiredness will still be there even if you were able to get eight hours of sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – This form causes the breathing to stop multiple times a night due to blockage of the throat caused by relaxed throat muscles or the tongue. It is the most common type.

Central sleep apnea (CSA) – This form is caused as a result of the brain not sending the right signals to the muscles that are responsible for breathing. It may be caused by other health problems such as liver or heart problems. The use of opiates can sometimes cause this problem.

Complex sleep apnea syndrome – This type is a combination of the other two. It is believed to be about 15 percent of the sleep apnea cases.

There are a wide range of other symptoms that you may be experiencing.

Do you have:

  • A headache in the morning
  • Waking suddenly with shortness of breath
  • Loud snoring
  • Waking in the morning with a sore throat or dry mouth
  • Difficulty in staying asleep
  • Someone telling you your breathing stops for short periods while sleeping
  • Being forgetful
  • Mood changes

Individuals with sleep apnea are often totally unaware of their breathing problems. They may think that they are sleeping well, even though they are being briefly waking to breathe. This occurrence may be so short that they do not remember it at all.

Another symptom to be aware of is having to frequently urinate at night, called nocturia. While the average person may get up to use the bathroom once or twice a night, someone with sleep apnea may do so six or more times. After being treated for it, this problem often disappears.

Snoring is another symptom, but not all snoring indicates that you have sleep apnea. Snoring is not normal, and its presence indicates that there is a breathing problem. It is only associated with sleep apnea when there are also periods of not breathing at the same time. Louder snoring is often connected with sleep apnea.

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