Diagram of obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is technically a break in your breathing while sleeping; in other words, you stop breathing. Sometimes the breaks last for more than a minute. As you can imagine, this can cause serious problems for your body.
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed (complex), with obstructive being the most common.
- Obstructive sleep apnea happens when there is a blockage of your airway. This is usually the soft tissue in the back of your throat collapsing and closing. The tongue may also play a part, as it relaxes and falls back into the throat.
- In central sleep apnea, the brain fails to send a signal that tells the muscles to breathe.
- Mixed apnea is a combination of the two.
The body reactions to sleep apnea include:
- As the oxygen levels in the body fall, the person wakes up as he gasps for air.
- He may make a choking or snorting sound. In severe cases, this can happen up to 30 times an hour.
Since you have to be aroused to start sleeping again, your sleep is interrupted and the sleep you do get is not very beneficial. You may not even be aware, when you have sleep apnea, that your body is having this reaction. However, sleep apnea can be very dangerous to your body if not properly treated.
Potential Problems Caused by Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can cause
- Memory problems
- High blood pressure or other cardiovascular disease
- Weight gain
- Death or injury from vehicle accidents
Since you are not getting high quality sleep, you will not be alert and may have impaired judgment or reflexes. You may feel fatigued, drowsy, and be irritable.
Causes and Risk Factors of Sleep Apnea
Males are more likely to have sleep apnea than females. Other factors play a role such as:
- If you have a heart disorder like congestive heart failure, then you are at high risk for sleep apnea.
- Strokes or brain tumors can also affect the brain’s ability to properly regulate breathing.
- Opioids, like morphine or codeine, increase your risk.
- Being at a higher altitude, such as 15,000 feet or higher may also cause sleep apnea. High altitude sleep apnea will no longer be a problem once you return to a lower altitude.