It’s estimated that more than one in 70 Americans are affected by sleep apnea. What’s more, many people living with this disorder don’t even know they have it—they may struggle for years with symptoms and side effects without making the connection to what the real problem is. If you are tired, irritable, wake up with headaches, or generally feel that your sleep is not restful, you may be among these “undiagnosed”—take a look at this sleep apnea information to see if you may be affected:
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that affects breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea occurs when your throat muscles cannot keep your airway open to allow air into your lungs. Your throat collapses for brief intervals, which causes problems with breathing. Typical sufferers may experience as many as 20 or 30 pauses in your breathing every hour while sleeping. These pauses last for as long as 10 to 20 seconds, during which air cannot reach your lungs.
There are several things that cause these, including having larger-than-normal tonsils or adenoids, having extra soft tissue in the throat, or having a smaller-than-normal airway size in the mouth and throat area. More men than women suffer from sleep apnea, and those who are overweight are generally more at risk.
What Sleep Apnea Does to Health
Sleep apnea is more than just a sleep disturbance or an annoyance—it can have serious health-related consequences. Sleep apnea sufferers are at a greater risk of lung, heart, and blood pressure problems. They may experience oxygen-depravation during the night, which can lead to unrestful sleep and chronic tiredness. Some people also experience mood swings, memory loss, or trouble concentrating.
Sleep apnea can interfere with work and lifestyle. In certain instances, it can even be dangerous to others. Some studies have shown that the lack of concentration that comes from sleep disturbance may impede driving ability.
How Sleep Apnea Is Diagnosed and Treated
If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, you can get a diagnosis from your doctor. He or she will ask you questions about your sleep and your lifestyle, and you may be asked sleep in a lab where your sleeping pattern can be evaluated.
Sleep apnea can usually be successfully treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. This essentially works like a reverse vacuum—it provides pressurized air to patients through a hose connected to a face mask that keeps the throat open allows the patient to breathe. Sleep apnea sufferers who wear a CPAP experience better, more restful sleep.