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All About Sleep Apnea and Sleep Cycle

Updated on November 19, 2013

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder that affects the way you breathe when sleeping. This disorder cause sleep to temporarily stop or slow down drastically during sleep, causing the sleeper to 'wake up' frequently during the night. A person with sleep apnea usually doesn't even know it, since waking up in the middle of the night due to shallow breathing happens hundreds of times a night subconsciously.
Sleep apneais a problem because it disrupts the sleep cycle (Please see my article). During the deep and deeper sleep stages, the body frantically replenishes itself, physically and mentally. If these stages are constantly disturbed, the replenishing is disturbed, and the sleeper wakes up as though he or she got half the amount of sleep.


Types of Sleep Apnea and how it Affects Breathing

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: the most common. It occurs when the back of your throat, particularly the tissue located there, relaxes too much during sleep, closing up the throat a little too much. All the air breathed in cannot go down the throat. This causes heavy snoring and frequent loss of breadth.
  • Central Sleep Apnea:this is not as common at all compared to Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Here the central nervous system fails to send signals to the muscles to continue breathing during sleep, forcing the usual 'wake ups'. Most central sleep apnea sufferers do not snore because no airways are being blocked.
  • Complex Sleep Apnea: a combination of both.

How to Spot Sleep Apnea (signs and symptoms)

  • Loud and chronic snoring
  • Choking or gasping, as though underwater, for breadth while in deep sleep
  • Constant dry or sore throat
  • morning headaches
  • moving around too much during sleep
  • Frequent nighttime awakenings , either to use the bathroom or waking up gasping for air
  • Some rarer signs are : moodiness, forgetfulness, depression, and concentration problems


Risk Factors To Contracting Sleep Apnea

Most people aren't born with sleep apnea in their genes. While you are more likely to to contract sleep apnea if you are related to someone who has it, other factors to getting it that you can control are:

  • Overweight
  • Male
  • Over the age of 60
  • African American, Hispanic, or a Pacific Islander
  • smoker
  • Other things that cannot be controlled are mostly physical characteristics: deviated septum, thick throat or tonsils, or even a receding chin.


How Sleep Apnea Actually Works

For a 'normal' sleeper, air flows smoothly and efficiently throughout the body. For a sufferer of sleep apnea, air flow is obstructed (only some air flows through smoothly) and the oxygen level to your body lowers. The brain combats this by waking the sleeper up just enough to restart the breathing process to its normal state. This waking up usually creates a gasp by the sleeper. Sufferers of sleep apnea do not notice these frequent awakenings because they don't actually wake up, but the sleep cycle is disturbed. Central sleep apnea sufferers have a better chance of actually waking up (as in, being conscious).

Treating Sleep Apnea

The goals to treating sleep apnea include to unblock airflow through the throat and to stop the symptoms of snoring and daytime tiredness.

General Changes:

  • Avoid depressants, such as alcohol or even sleeping pills, before bed. This doesn't help the passage of your throat. Some people have to take sleeping pills to sleep, which is understandable. The other steps will help to combat the sleeping pills.
  • Losing weight helps. Even a couple of pounds may relieve pressure off your body. If even a tiny bit of fat is burnt off the neck, sleep apnea may be reduced from a bad case to a medium case, for example.
  • Quit smoking. Easier said than done (I know I'm asking for a miracle here). Use your sleep apnea as a motivator to quit!
  • Sleep apnea is sometimes connected with high blood pressure and diabetes. Sometimes lowering your high blood pressure or keeping a close eye on your sugar levels can help sleep apnea.
  • Sometimes sleeping on the side of your body helps. The theory is that it helps to keep the throat open for maximum air passage. Its not uncommon to hear about people stuffing tennis balls into pillows to keep them from turning over onto their back!

Breathing and Mouth Devices

  • CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is a very common treatment for severe sleep apnea sufferers. This is usually only for adults, but teenagers and pre-teens can also use it. This machine is basically a little metal box with a tube attached to a mask over your face that pumps air down your throat. Don't worry, it is a gentle, smooth flow of fresh, room temperature air. Your doctor will test the flow of the machine to create enough air pressure to just keep your air passage clear.
    Some side effects, as you may imagine, is general discomfort before falling asleep and dry, irritated mouth and throat. if the doctor adjusts the machine properly, than the air pressure won't cause any problems. If the air pressure is wrong, stomach bloating could occur.
  • A mouthpiece, sometimes dubbed an oral device, only helps for mild cases of sleep apnea. These are custom fit and do well with opening the airways and lower throat enough aid sleep apnea.


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