Apnea is a breathing stoppage where air cannot flow in or out of a person’s nose or mouth. The amount of time that a sleep apnea patient stops breathing can be from 10 seconds to two minutes or more. These breathing “stoppages” can happen a few times per hour or, in more severe cases, 60-100 times per hour or to the point where someone more time NOT breathing than they are breathing.
When breathing stops, oxygen levels drop significantly and can affect the heart, brain and blood pressure. Recent studies prove a relationship between sleep apnea and heart problems and failure, hypertension and stroke. It may contribute to obesity and diabetes. Snoring is frequently associated with sleep apnea, Sleep apnea is not confined to one group or size, but is more frequent in men and obese individuals.
Because someone with sleep apnea wakes up constantly due to the breathing stoppages, they have inadequate sleep. The apneic patient is usually not aware how many times they wake up during the night, but it can be as many times as they stop breathing. It could be 70-100 times per hour and they don’t realize it! This lack of quality and restorative sleep leads to excessive daytime sleepiness. Concentration and daytime performance can be severely affected.
The most dangerous of the problems related to lack of sleep are “drowsy driving” and accidents on the job, which can lead to fatalities or serious consequences of untreated sleep apnea. The snoring that can accompany sleep apnea can also mean a disturbed sleep for the bed partner of the individual and the bed partner can also be sleep deprived. Other problems, such as depression, irritability and sexual dysfunction, can also be linked to untreated sleep apnea.
If someone falls asleep at inappropriate times, such as driving a car or while stopped in traffic, while working or when engaged in conversation, that person should be evaluated by a physician for sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can be caused by an obstruction in the upper airway that blocks the air from getting in or out. When the muscles are relaxed during sleep, they can sag, causing a blockage.
Also an excessive amount of tissue, such as in obesity, can cause a narrowing and obstruction.
How it is Diagnosed:
A sleep study (polysomnogram) is used to confirm obstructive sleep apnea. This study measures your sleep cycles and stages by recording movement, breathing rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation and heart rhythm.
During the sleep study, you will sleep in a private room that has beendesigned to be as close to your home bedroom as possible. The majority of our sleep studies are performed overnight, but we are able to accommodate a schedule close to your natural sleep habits.
When you arrive for your sleep study, a registered sleep tech (polysomnographic tech) will place electrodes on your chin, scalp and outer edge of your eyelids. These will measure your brain waves, heart beat and breathing throughout the night. The electrodes are applied so you can turn and move in your sleep with little discomfort. Signals from the electrodes are recorded while you are awake with your eyes closed and during sleep. The time taken to fall asleep is measured as well as the time to enter rapid eye movement sleep. Monitors to record your heart rate and breathing will be attached to your chest. During some sleep studies, an infrared camera may be used to capture movements during sleep.
During the night, the sleep tech will be monitoring your readings from our control room. The results of this evaluation are studied by the staff and, depending on your diagnosis, your physician will discuss available treatment options.
Sleep apnea can be treated. Once someone has been diagnosed, the most common form of treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This is where a small machine pushes air through the upper airway to keep it open. A small mask is placed over the nose to allow the air to enter the airway. A nasal mask is attached to the machine by tubing. This is the most effective, painless way to treat sleep apnea and can actually correct the disorder entirely in most people. After sleep apnea patients become accustomed to the equipment, many find that their quality of life is so much improved they will take the equipment with them wherever they go. The improvement in quality of life and daytime performance can be remarkable.
Treatments for mild OSA include weight loss, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, sleeping off back, and/or nasal sprays.