What is Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea is a chronic disorder in which breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. The word “apnea” literally means “without breath”. An apnea is defined as a complete cessation of breathing that lasts 10 seconds or greater.
It is where the airway repeatedly becomes blocked, limiting the amount of air that reaches your lungs. When this happens, your brain and body becomes oxygen deprived and in turn your brain triggers you to wake up. This may happen a few times a night, or in more severe cases, several hundred times a night.

The main types of sleep apnea are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax, and a partial or complete blockage occurs in the throat, also known as the pharynx
  • Central sleep apnea (CSA), a more unusual form which occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the body to continue breathing
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome (CompSAS), also commonly known as ‘mixed sleep apnea’. A distinct form which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA)

How is BMI calculated?

The body mass index formula is easy to determine. It is a simple calculation that takes into account your weight and height.

· BMI formula = Weight (kg) ÷ Height (m2)

People with a BMI above the healthy range are at greater risk of developing sleep apnea.

What causes sleep apnea?

There is strong evidence that the most common causes of sleep apnea is from the complex disease of obesity. There are many reasons why some people have difficulty avoiding obesity. Usually obesity results from a combination of inherited factors, combined with the environment and personal diet and exercise choices.

The link between excess weight and sleep apnea is well established. People who are overweight are more likely to have extra tissue in the back of their throat, which can fall down over the airway and block the flow of air into the lungs while they sleep.

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is one of the most frequently used measurements of a person’s physical shape and general health. It is the official measure of national obesity rates.

Symptoms of sleep apnea

  • Snoring that is often loud, regular and followed by periods of silence. Snoring is usually loudest when the person sleeps on their back and quiets down when the person lies on their side. This is the most obvious sign and is often noticed by the partner who shares the bed
  • Disrupted breathing noises such as gasping or choking due to the airway blockage
  • Daytime sleepiness from sleep deprivation. People may fall asleep during work, driving or while on the phone
  • Broken sleep due to breathing disruption and the body unable to reach non-REM and REM sleep cycles
  • Morning headaches occur due to the low oxygen supply to the brain during the night
  • Dry or sore mouth/throat in the mornings
  • Decreased libido
  • An increase of irritability, grumpiness, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, short temper and even depression
  • Greater risk for high blood pressure and even a stroke

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Using a CPAP (continuous positive airflow pressure) machine and mask at night is the frontline treatment for people with moderate to severe sleep apnea. This machine keeps the airway open by gently providing a constant stream of positive pressure air through a mask. CPAP only needs to be used during sleep and if used the treatment reduces sleepiness and improves symptoms.

Sleep apnea is a serious condition, and if you suspect that you may have sleep apnea, the first action you must take is to see your doctor.

Assist your general practitioner by providing information on your sleep, your fatigue levels and any other symptoms that you may have, including any medications that you have been prescribed.

Smart lifestyle modification can help too, especially for people with mild sleep apnea.

These include:-

  • Losing weight – one of the most important action that one can take to possibly cure sleep apnea. Improving lifestyle choices of a healthy diet and daily exercise
  • Avoiding alcohol – as it relaxes muscles and may increase apnea, as may sleeping tablets which depress the drive to breathe. Try to maintain a regular sleeping pattern
  • Avoid Caffeine and eating late at night – as this disrupts natural sleeping patterns
  • Quit smoking – cigarette smoking inflames the upper airway
  • CPAP Pillow – Encourages sleep to occur on the side instead of the back
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