Sleep is a necessary bodily function, but many people don’t get enough of it or don’t get enough quality sleep. Dedicating more time to sleeping might help some people, but it likely won’t do any good for those unaware they are suffering from sleep apnea.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition that causes a person to stop breathing during sleep. These non-breathing periods are short, lasting about 10 seconds, and don’t cause the person to wake up. Non-breathing periods can occur up to 100 times an hour. There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central. With obstructive sleep apnea, the more common type, muscles in the throat relax and block the airway. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain does not communicate the proper signals to muscles that control breathing. Sometimes a person will have complex sleep apnea, which is a mixture of both obstructive and central sleep apnea. Diagnosing a sleep disorder begins with recognizing the symptoms and undergoing a sleep study test.
Some symptoms of sleep apnea are common, which may cause sufferers to ignore them. These signs and symptoms often increase gradually and go unchecked for years. For example, one person snores, which annoys the person sleeping nearby, but it is not considered a major problem since many people snore. However, when other symptoms occur, it’s not as easy to dismiss them. Other symptoms can include the following:
- Waking up by gasping or choking
- Insomnia or tossing and turning frequently throughout the night
- Nocturia, or waking up at night to urinate
- Waking up with a headache, dry mouth or sore throat
- Being sleepy and tired during the day
- Inability to remember things or concentrate
- Depression, anxiety and other mood changes
Testing for Sleep Apnea
Anyone with sleep apnea symptoms should be tested, because it’s not just about getting a better night’s sleep. Abnormal or disordered sleep patterns are linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Some sufferers also experience personality shifts, which can impact their quality of life.
During a sleep study, or polysomnogram, the patient spends the night at the sleep study facility. Electrodes are attached to the body in various locations to measure body and brain activity. One of the tests is an EOG, which monitors eye movement during sleep. Other tests include an EMG, which measures muscle movement, and an EEG, which registers brain activity. Sleep technicians also test for heart activity, breathing and oxygen levels.
Testing may also include X-rays, CT scans or an MRI to find what’s blocking the patient’s airway. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment options depend on what is found to be the cause of the blockage, as well as the severity of the sleep apnea. Patients are commonly treat with CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, which is a machine and mask that blows air into the airway. Other treatment options include wearing dental appliance and lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and treating allergies. In severe cases, the patient may need surgery.