Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. You may have sleep apnea if you snore loudly, and you feel tired even after a full night’s sleep.
What Exactly Happens When A Person Has Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat completely relax. Those muscles support the soft palate, the piece of tissue hanging from the soft palate called uvula, the tonsils, the sidewalls of the throat and the tongue.
Why Is It Dangerous When The Muscles At The Back Of The Throat Relax During Sleep?
When the muscles relax, your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in, and you can’t get a good breath in. This may lower the level of oxygen in your blood. Low oxygen levels in the blood can cause Hypoxemia.
Hypoxemia occurs when levels of oxygen in the blood are lower than normal. If blood oxygen levels are too low, your body may not work properly. Blood carries oxygen to the cells throughout your body to keep them healthy. Hypoxemia can cause mild problems such as headaches and shortness of breath.
What Happens During Sleep When You Can’t Breathe?
Your brain senses this inability to breathe and briefly rouses you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway. This awakening is usually so brief that you don’t remember it. Excessive sleepiness is a common symptom of OSA.
Do People With Obstructive Sleep Apnea Make Sounds During Sleep Besides Snoring?
People that suffer from OSA may make a snorting, choking or gasping sound. This pattern can repeat itself five to 30 times or more each hour, all night long. These disruptions impair your ability to reach the desired deep, restful phases of sleep, and you’ll probably feel sleepy during your waking hours.
People with obstructive sleep apnea may not be aware that their sleep was interrupted. In fact, some people with sleep apnea think they sleep well all night. Often their partners, family members or close friends are the ones expressing concern about the noises and obvious struggle during sleep.
What Are The Risk Factors Of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea can affect anyone, even children. Certain factors increase your risk of obstructive sleep apnea:
- Excess weight. People who are obese (BMI greater than 30) have four times the risk of sleep apnea that people who are a normal weight people do. Fat deposits around your upper airway may obstruct your breathing. But not everyone who has sleep apnea is overweight.
- Neck circumference. People with thicker necks may have narrower airways. For men, the risk increases if neck circumference is 17 inches or larger. In women, the risk increases if neck circumference is 15 inches or larger.
- A narrowed airway. You may have inherited a naturally narrow throat. Or, tonsils or adenoids may become enlarged and block the airway, particularly in children with sleep apnea.
- Being male. Men are twice as likely to have sleep apnea. However, women increase their risk if they’re overweight, and their risk also appears to rise after menopause.
- Being older. Sleep apnea occurs significantly more often in older adults.
- Family history. If you have family members with sleep apnea, you may be at increased risk.
- Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers. These substances relax the muscles in your throat.
- Smoking. Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than are people who’ve never smoked. Smoking may increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway. This risk likely drops after you quit smoking.
- Nasal congestion. If you have difficulty breathing through your nose whether it’s from an anatomical problem or allergies — you’re more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.
What Are Common Complications Caused By Sleep Apnea?
- Daytime fatigue is the most common symptom when people suffer from Sleep Apnea. The repeated awakenings associated with sleep apnea make normal, restorative sleep is impossible. People with sleep apnea often experience severe daytime drowsiness, fatigue, and irritability. You may have difficulty concentrating and find yourself falling asleep at work while watching TV or even when driving. People with sleep apnea have an increased risk of a motor vehicle and workplace accidents. You may also feel quick-tempered, moody or depressed. Children and adolescents with sleep apnea may do poorly in school or have behavior problems.
- High blood pressure or heart problems. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during sleep apnea increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) is greater than if you don’t. Obstructive sleep apnea may increase the risk of recurrent heart attack, and abnormal heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation. Obstructive sleep apnea also increases the risk of stroke. If there’s underlying heart disease, these multiple episodes of low blood oxygen (hypoxia or hypoxemia) can lead to sudden death from an irregular heartbeat.
- Type 2 diabetes. People with sleep apnea are more likely to develop insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes compared with people without the sleep disorder.
- Metabolic syndrome. This disorder is a collection of other risk factors linked to a higher risk of heart disease. The conditions that make up metabolic syndrome include high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, high blood sugar, and increased waist circumference.
- Complications with medications and surgery. Obstructive sleep apnea is also a concern with certain medications and general anesthesia. People with sleep apnea may be more likely to experience complications following major surgery because they’re prone to breathing problems, especially when sedated and lying on their backs. Before you have surgery, tell your doctor that you have sleep apnea and how it’s treated.
- Liver problems. People with sleep apnea are more likely to have abnormal results on liver function tests, and their livers are more likely to show signs of scarring. This is a condition known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Sleep-deprived partners. Loud snoring can keep those around you from getting good rest and eventually disrupt your relationships. It’s not uncommon for a partner to go to another room, or even on another floor of the house, to be able to sleep. Many bed partners of people who snore may be sleep-deprived and have a higher chance of developing Type 2 diabetes themselves.
Excessive Sleepiness Caused By Obstructive Sleep Apnea
*According to the NSA, Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a Sleep Disorder that can often be the cause daytime drowsiness and excessive sleepiness.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. The “apnea” in sleep apnea refers to a breathing pause that lasts at least ten seconds. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, despite efforts to breathe. Another form of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea, in which the brain fails to properly control breathing during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is far more common than central sleep apnea.
These obstructive events usually result in measurable drops in blood oxygen saturation, which returns to baseline levels when the person’s breathing resumes. Episodes of OSA typically end with the person waking up briefly in order to reopen his or her airway.
People who have OSA snore loudly between episodes and can also gasp and/or choke. As a result of the pattern of airway obstruction and multiple arousals that occur during the night, people with OSA have sleep fragmentation and often experience excessive sleepiness during the day.
*Content for the Excessive Sleepiness Associated with Obstructive Sleep Apnea was reviewed by NSF experts and developed independently by the National Sleep Foundation with an unrestricted grant from Jazz Pharmaceuticals.
Dr. Mir Varquez operates a privately owned Sleep Study and Sleep Disorder Treatment Center in Cullman, Alabama. Dr. Varquez has 30 years of experience as a medical doctor and is a board-certified cardiologist, sleep specialist, and internist. She takes medical insurance and helps patients by diagnosing and treating sleep disorders, and cardiac disorders. The important thing that
Dr. Mir Varquez wants her patients to understand that if they have symptoms of OSA, they should commit to a Sleep Study to determine if they are suffering from a sleep disorder or not. She says many secondary diseases can be avoided with proper testing, diagnosis, and treatment.