I have what?
General Overview of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea, which is spelled apnoea or apnoa in the United Kingdom, is a disorder that affects many people -- while they sleep, making it a silent stalker. When a person has an “apnea,” they actually stop breathing.
The word apnea, which comes from the Greek language, means “without breath.”
An apnea's duration, otherwise known as an apneic event, is measured during a sleep study. Doctors have this habit of calling it by its technical name, a Polysomnogram, or a PSG, for short.
During the sleep study, for an “event” to be classified as an apnea, it must last at least ten seconds. Some apneics are known to have apneas that last longer than 90 seconds.
There are three types of apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Central Sleep Apnea, and Mixed Sleep Apnea. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is most prevalent.
Most people with sleep apnea have no idea they actually suffer from the disorder. It is generally characterized by loud snoring, but the chief warning sign is the person stops breathing during their sleep, usually followed by a gasp, snort, or gurgling sound, which ends the event. Some severe apneics actually have more than 100 events each hour, translating into a night of very little, yet very disturbed sleep.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Again, the most common form of sleep apnea is what's called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It is usually associated with snoring.
In OSA, the muscles of the upper airway, basically, the back of the throat, relax, and the airway collapses, preventing the person from breathing in, effectively stopping the person's breathing. When the person stops breathing, the blood's oxygen level falls, which causes the brain to send an emergency signal that the body must “gasp” or “snort” for air, which causes the person to awaken, even if just slightly. Often, people suffering OSA do not remember many of the nightly awakenings.
Once the person makes the gasp, it is generally enough stimulation for the throat muscles to regain their tone, and the person resumes breathing. This can happen to a person with OSA several hundred times each night.
Though apneics usually don't remember these abrupt awakenings, they often don't get enough sleep. As a result, the person constantly tired and sleepy, often napping at home, or dozing off in the workplace. On the more severe side, the person may fall asleep while driving.
Central Sleep Apnea
In the simplest terms, Central Apnea means the brain forgets to tell the body to breathe.
In a slightly more clinical definition, central sleep apnea is caused when the brain fails to send the proper signals to the diaphragm and chest muscles, resulting in no breathe being taken.
The difference with this type of apnea is that the airway is open, yet the body "forgets" to breathe.
Central sleep apnea may be associated with certain neurological conditions or cardiopulmonary disorders, but they are still being researched.
As in OSA, when the blood oxygen level drops, the brain sends a signal to take an emergency breathe, which causes the apneic person to gasp or snort. The person then wakes from deep, gasps, but once again, is breathing.
Mixed Sleep Apnea
Mixed sleep apnea is a condition in which the apneic person suffers from both obstructive and central apneic events during sleep.
For more information on apnea, as well as prognosis, current research, and more, click here to review information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which is a branch of the National Institutes of Health.