Sleep apnea is a debilitating and life-shortening ailment that affects millions of people across the globe, many of whom do not know they have this potentially dangerous condition. Understanding sleep apnea and its symptoms and risk factors is imperative for men and women who feel they have or may someday have sleep apnea.
What is sleep apnea?
The word “apnea” is Greek and means “without breath.” Sleep apnea occurs involuntarily and unexpectedly while a person is asleep. It causes a person to stop breathing repeatedly while sleeping — sometimes hundreds of times a night — estimates the American Sleep Apnea Association. These moments of breathlessness can last a minute or longer and may not trigger a full awakening in a person.
There are different types of sleep apnea. The main types are obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive apnea is more common and occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax during sleep and inhibit air flow. With central sleep apnea, a person’s brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
During an episode of sleep apnea, the body may rouse itself partially to resume breathing but not enough to fully awaken the person. As a result, sleep may be very fragmented and sufferers could feel extremely tired during the day and not understand why.