What Is Sleep Apnea and Do I Have It?

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects over 25 million people in America alone and almost a billion people worldwide. It occurs in all sexes and all age groups, and it commonly goes undiagnosed. In fact, more than 80% of patients with sleep apnea don’t even know they have it.

Let’s get into the specifics. This disorder shows up, primarily, in two forms: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA).

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

OSA is by far the more common of the two. It occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat fail to keep your breathing airway open, resulting in either a partial or complete blockage in your airway. Essentially, you stop breathing periodically throughout the night! This, in turn, signals your brain to partially wake up in order to tell your body that you need to breathe, because, you know, you need to breathe to stay alive.

This can cause you to wake up as many as 500 times each and every night, depending on the severity of your OSA.

A note on the varying severity of OSA:

  • Mild OSA: 5-14 interruptions in breathing per hour.
  • Moderate OSA: 15- 30 interruptions per hour.
  • Severe OSA: 30 or more interruptions per hour.

These apnea obstructions are often followed by gasping, choking, and snorting sounds, which are the result of trying to take a deep enough breath to fight past the obstruction so that you can breathe. Once a breath is taken, the brain returns to sleep. However, these events might be very subtle and are virtually silent to certain people.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is a bit different. It is more of a communication problem with the brain than a mechanical problem with the breathing airways. With CSA, your brain actually fails to signal the muscles that are supposed to be regulating your breathing. CSA is much less common, comprising around 15% of all sleep apnea cases. For the rest of the blog, I’ll mainly focus on OSA, but symptomatically speaking, they are pretty similar disorders.

So, what can lead to Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Let’s go over the risk factors.

Weight is a primary risk factor for OSA. Excess body fat contributes to blocking up your breathing airways, making it harder for you to breathe as you sleep. Wait, but not always. 40% of people with sleep apnea are not overweight. So don’t let a normal body weight fool you.

Lifestyle choices also contribute. Alcohol and other sedatives relax your breathing muscles, which can contribute to blocking off your airway as you sleep. Oftentimes, your frequent awakenings are treated with a sleeping pill and that can make sleep apnea even worse.

Your physical features can also play a role: larger neck sizes, a small upper airway, a small jaw, a recessed chin, and a large tongue, tonsils, or uvula can all contribute and put you at risk for OSA!

Demographics and age play a role. OSA is slightly more common among men and post-menopausal women. OSA prevalence also increases with age. After the age of 60, the risk increases dramatically.

Also, if your family has a history with OSA, you are 4 times more likely to get the disorder yourself.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea comes with many, at times devastating, symptoms. One of the clearest is snoring.

  • Snoring – Loud, disruptive, and regular snoring is an obvious sign that you may suffer from Sleep Apnea.
  • Sleep Deprivation – People with sleep apnea also tend to be sleep deprived because of the numerous apneic episodes throughout the night where you stop breathing and subsequently wake up. You can imagine that waking up 50 times an hour wouldn’t result in a very restful, regenerative night’s sleep. And you’re right. Sleep deprivation can be absolutely devastating. It can lead to numerous problems with cognitive function like learning difficulties and trouble with concentration and memory. It can also result in sexual dysfunction. More generally, it is a leading cause of sleepiness at work and while driving. This is called Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS). Sleep deprivation can also be catastrophic for your overall well-being, leading to depression, irritability, and general problems with your mood. These all contribute to overall reduced quality of life.

Some lesser-known symptoms include nighttime sweating especially around the neck and upper chest, a higher frequency of nighttime urination, frequent morning headaches, morning jaw pain, excessive drool on your pillow, a dry mouth, and even nighttime heartburn.

What are some consequences of sleep apnea?

OSA is associated with higher rates of strokes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, and even car crashes.

In children, OSA is associated with poor growth, developmental delays, and cognitive/behavioral problems (sleepfoundation.org). Excessively tired children often display attention-deficit type symptoms instead of the typical adult signs of sleepiness.

Do you currently have Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

  • Do you go to watch TV with your kids and fall asleep as soon as you hit the couch? Do they say you snore loudly and gasp for breath?
  • Has your partner left the bedroom because they can’t take the noise at night?
  • Do you feel drowsy even though you think are getting enough sleep at night?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnea, just like millions of other Americans out there.

So, what can you do about it?

If you or your partner thinks that you may be suffering from sleep apnea, download our innovative app, Ognomy, to connect with a board-certified sleep medicine provider and expert in sleep apnea. They will be able to do a full history and a focused physical evaluation of your throat via your phone camera. This physical examination is the first step to finding the appropriate means of diagnosis and treatment. After this, you are well on your way to a better night’s sleep and a healthier you.

Treating your sleep apnea has never been easier than with our app and home sleep test. Start drastically improving the quality of your life from the comfort of your own home today.