One of the more serious and quite frankly, deadly sleep disorders is sleep apnea. This sleep disorder is characterized by breathing repeatedly stopping and starting during sleep.
While not as common as insomnia, it is estimated that up to 20% of the U.S. population suffers from this insidious condition. The true number is hard to determine because like so many sleep disorders, the person who suffers from the symptoms, may not realize they have the condition. Loud snoring and feeling tired after a full night sleep are common indicators of sleep apnea.
The word apnea is actually a Greek word which means “without breath”, which makes this one of the most dangerous sleep disorders.
Basically, there are three categories or types of sleep apnea. The first is Obstructive (OSA) and is the most common. It occurs when the throat muscles relax.
Second is Central sleep apnea (CSA) which occurs when the brain signals are not properly sent to the muscles which control breathing.And the third type is known as Complex Sleep Apnea, which is a combination of both OSA and CSA.
While each type has a different root cause, in all three conditions, breathing is repeatedly stopped during sleep. It’s possible for this to occur hundreds of times in a single night. This can result in a fragmented or a general lack of sleep.
Some risk factors for sleep apnea are being overweight, a male, and being over the age of 40. However sleep apnea can strike at any age. Like so many sleep disorders, there is a general lack of public awareness, and most cases go undiagnosed and consequently untreated, even though it is a serious health threat.
If untreated, it may cause cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure. Memory loss, impotency, headaches and weight gain are other typical side effects.
Like insomnia, sleep apnea can also cause behavioral problems at school or work, and problems operating a vehicle or machinery due to the lack of sleep.Fortunately, there are treatments available upon diagnosis.
The main medical treatment for sleep apnea is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). This treatment involves wearing a mask over the nose and mouth while asleep. The mask is connected to a machine which delivers a continuous flow of air directly into the nose. This keeps the nostrils open and breathing is not impaired.
Physicians specializing in sleep disorders consider CPAP the most effective treatment.Surgery is also an option for sleep apnea treatments. The most common procedures are
1. Nasal Correction Surgery. This may be required to repair physical obstructions like a deviated septum.
2. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). This procedure removes the soft tissue from the palate and back of the throat area which increased the diameter of the throat’s airway.
3. Mandibular Maxillar Advancement Surgery (MMA). This is a more invasive surgery which attempts to correct facial abnormalities and physical throat obstructions.
Like with many sleep disorders, behavioral modifications may be enough to avoid the need for surgery. This approach involves losing weight, avoiding any type of sleeping pills, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and frequently changing positions while in bed to avoid sleeping on the back.
So many sleep disorders go undiagnosed and therefore untreated. Sleep apnea is no exception and is literally a “silent killer”.