What is Sleep Apnea: Causes, Risks and Treatment Options

Deep and calm breathing during the night plays an important role in determining the quality of sleep. Unfortunately, many people suffer from sleep apnea – a condition characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breathing in one’s sleep.

Sleep apnea is a relatively common condition. Nearly 42 million Americans suffer from some kind of disordered breathing in their sleep, SDB statistics suggest. One in five people has mild sleep apnea and one in 15 has a moderate to severe form of the condition.

While it’s relatively common, sleep apnea is still somewhat misunderstood. What is it caused by and what does it take to overcome the problem? The following article will try to answer these questions.

Types of Sleep Apnea
The obstruction of breathing in one’s sleep comes in two main forms – obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

The obstructive form is much more widespread and it is caused by an airway blockage. This blockage is often the result of excess weight. Central sleep apnea, on the other hand, doesn’t come with an airway blockage. Instead, the brain fails doing its job and signaling the respiratory muscles to initiate the breathing process.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
There are several common symptoms that people suffering from sleep apnea are likely to experience.

For a start, sleep apnea will usually be noticed by partners and significant others. It often comes with periods of loud snoring followed by a complete cessation of breathing. The loud snoring will resume in a couple of seconds.

People who suffer from sleep apnea will often wake up with a dry or a sore throat. They may also wake up in the middle of the night because of breathlessness. A few other common sleep apnea symptoms include headaches in the morning, lack of energy, insomnia, forgetfulness and decline in cognitive function, restless sleep, abrupt awakening and irritability.

Risk Factors
Sleep apnea is more common among certain kinds of people. Several risk factors make the likelihood of suffering from the condition higher.

For a start, sleep apnea is more common among men. While only nine percent of middle-aged women suffer from OSA, the condition affects 25 percent of men within the same age group.

Being overweight or obese is a second common risk factor. People who are obese are four times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than people who maintain a healthy weight, Mayo Clinic reports. The fat deposits in the area of the neck and the upper body are the ones that can lead to breathing problems during the night.

A big neck circumference, cigarette smoking, family history, age, nasal congestion and the use of alcohol are other risk factors that increase the risk of the condition.

Treatments
Sleep apnea is a treatable condition. There are several things that people can do on their own to overcome mild to moderate cases of the sleep disorder.

Losing weight is the number one self-help treatment. Even a small loss in body fat can contribute to much higher sleep quality and easier breathing during the night. The same thing applies to quitting smoking.

It’s a good idea to decrease alcohol consumption and avoid caffeinated beverages in the evening. Maintaining regular sleep hours and exercising in the evening are two other excellent treatment options.

If these techniques fail, a physician may recommend continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. A mask is used to deliver continuous pressure to keep the upper airways open through the night. While this is one of the most common treatment possibilities, it may necessitate some getting-used to in the beginning.