sleeping disorder

This is a sleeping disorder that in America alone affects
over 14 million people, and is characterized by pauses in
breathing during sleep. These pauses can last for 20 to 30
seconds or more. During an hour these sleep apnea episodes
can occur five to thirty times and can cause disruptions to
sleep. The condition is usually associated with snorting,
choking and loud snoring and it generally affects men and
older people but women and even children can suffer from it.

Those with sleep apnea are not always due to the nature of
the condition, aware that they have a sleeping disorder.
Because of that it is said that 80% to 90% of those
suffering are undiagnosed. It is generally the case that
their partners notice the condition and bring it to their

Types of sleep apnea

There are two types. The more common type is called
obstructive sleep apnea, and as the name suggests involves
a blocked airway, which can be the result of over-relaxed
throat muscles and tongue, obesity, and facial and bone
structure deformities. The blockage causes breathing to
stop and the person begins to struggle for breath and snort.

When a blockage occurs, the oxygen level decreases, while
the carbon dioxide level increases. This in turn stimulates
the brain to normalize the breathing process and prompts
the person to wake up and to open the airway by adjusting
the tongue and throat muscles. Breathing then returns to
normal accompanied usually by loud snoring. This usually
occurs without the person's knowledge and they may not
remember being awake for a short time or even be aware of
their gasps for air.

The second type is called central sleep apnea which is the
result of the brain's delayed signals to the breathing
muscles. This causes the breathing to stop and as a result
the oxygen level starts to drop. This condition is less
common than obstructive sleep apnea and is a nervous system
disorder brought on by an injury or a disease that involves
the brainstem. This could be in the form of a stroke or
brain tumour amongst other things. Although those with this
condition may not typically snore, they may experience
shortness of breath.

Although both types have different causes, their effects
are the same: low level of oxygen in the brain, poor sleep,
excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and sometimes as a
result, depression. Side effects of the disorder can be
high blood pressure and heart irregularities when the
oxygen levels become dangerously low. The condition can be
extremely disturbing to bed partners due to the loud
snoring and pauses in breath and can lead to the partner
suffering from sleep deprivation.

What to do

Since the condition occurs only during sleep it is hard for
a person to know they have sleep apnea. If a person
suspects they have the condition, especially if they
display signs of the symptoms, they can opt to have their
sleeping patterns documented. For example, the person's
partner could be asked to record episodes of breath pauses,
snoring, choking, snorting etc. If alone, the person can
video themselves sleeping to see if the symptoms are
displayed. By doing this the findings would determine if
seeing a doctor or sleep specialist was required.

When diagnosed, either the doctor or the sleep specialist
would put forward treatments or surgeries depending on the
severity of the condition. But do not despair. To overcome
minor sleep apnea,making some lifestyle changes or
behavioural treatments can, and are, very helpful. For
example, reducing or avoiding alcohol and tobacco, loosing
weight and ensuring that one has regular sleeping hours.

If diagnosed with sleep apnea, professional advice from a
doctor or sleep specialist will be necessary to treat the
condition satisfactorily.