Sleep apnea symptoms are the result of a serious sleeping disorder where the sleeping person has repeated periods where breathing stops (apnea) and he/she comes to varying degrees out of a deep sleep state. The results of apnea (total cease of air flow) or frequent hypopnea (reduced air flow) are that the sleeping person experiences a decreased amount of oxygen flow in the blood and to the brain.
Sleep Apnea, depending on the cause, can be classified as either obstructive, central, or a combination of the two. In central sleep apnea, the cause is a dysfunction in the brain’s control of breathing. In obstructive sleep apnea, there is a blockage of air flow in the throat or airways.
Sleep Apnea leads to increased risk and earlier incidence of strokes and heart attacks. During the day, there is also an increased risk of accidents (e.g., auto accidents) and impaired functioning as a result of excessive tiredness and even nodding off involuntarily. The sleep of a person with sleep apnea is at less than full efficiency. Long term over time may contribute to a reduced brain sensitivity to the actual apnea condition.
Among the causes of Sleep Apnea may be a dysfunction in the brain, the inherited design and size of the throat and upper airways, obesity, age and other factors that affect the muscle conditioning of the muscles of the airways, and, smoking and use of alcohol.
Sleep Apnea symptoms:
- stopping breathing while sleeping: can extend from a few seconds to a few minutes, many times per hour
- sudden awakening: often with a gasp or snort as the brain realizes an emergency condition exists and oxygen supply must be restored
- snoring: not all snorers have apnea, but, most apnea sufferers snore
- gasping, choking: this can occur even during the day
- headaches: typically having a dull or strong headache upon awakening and for some time thereafter
- sleepiness: excessive drowsiness or tiredness during the day even after a night’s sleep.
- nodding off involuntarily
- impaired mental alertness
Observing any of the above symptoms can lead to suspicion of the presence of sleep apnea. Often the problem is detected by a spouse that notices the gaps in normal breathing and snores and snorts during sleep.
The diagnosis can be confirmed by a sleep test at a sleep clinic, where electrodes will be used to monitor and measure the number of apneic episodes, sleep efficiency, heart rate, oxygen intake/saturation can confirm the diagnosis.
Breathing can stop for hundreds of instances per night, bring the sleeper out of REM state many times per hour, and greatly reduce oxygen intake and overall sleep efficiency. Sleep efficiency may be cut by more than 50%.
Quite often the symptoms can be greatly reduced or eliminated, but a full cure not achieved. Corrective action may include changing one’s sleep position (e.g., sleeping on side or back), avoiding smoking, alcohol, and products or drugs that promote sleep/drowsiness, losing weight, getting fit, using a breathing aid (e.g., a CPAP, a Continuous Positive Air Pressure machine) or other oral devices, and possibly surgery.