- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Sleep Apnea Danger
Sleep apnea. It is not funny. It can be deadly. It is also believed to be genetic. Sleep apnea is not only a condition of overweight people. It has more to do with the anatomy of the throat. I know of a few men and women who are thin that have sleep apnea. Weight can contribute because when we go into a deep sleep, the chest and belly muscles relax pressing on the lungs and resulting in quicker loss of air.
About fifteen years ago that I became concerned about my husband’s condition. He has always slept flat on his back and has a tendency to snore loudly. As a very light sleeper myself, his snoring would keep me awake quite often. His snoring used to be in a consistent rhythm. However, I began to notice that he would stop snoring, and in fact would have periods where he would not breathe for several moments at a time. I would wake him up and tell him that he was not breathing. He thought I was just picking on his snoring and became annoyed. One night I decided to tape record him. When I played the recording back to him, he finally believed me.
First we saw an ENT specialist (Ears, Nose and Throat). My husband never had his tonsils out and also has quite a large tongue. The physician scheduled a sleep test at the hospital. He slept overnight with several sensors wired to him attached to a monitor. It was determined that night that he quit breathing around 250 times during in which there were intervals of over one minute (some up to three minutes) between each breath. Since then he has been using a CPAP machine and has felt much better during the day and I have also been able to sleep easier.
When my husband first got his C-Pap machine, it took some adjustments by both of us. I looked over at my sweetheart and he had what looks like an elephant’s trunk. It is the hose from the C-pap machine that compresses air into his mouth and throat. It keeps him alive, and for that I am thankful. It is believed his father died in his sleep because he didn’t have one. My son was recently diagnosed with sleep apnea also. Currently he uses oxygen at night until he gets his machine. He is so young and has small children, so I hope that he will soon be able to sleep better.
During sleep, the brain goes through a series of sleep stages: two stages of light sleep, one of deep sleep, and then REM (rapid eye movement) or dream sleep. Deep sleep is the time when the body is really resting and renewing. During REM brain function is regenerated including thinking, concentration, memory and mood. During REM sleep the muscles relax and the muscles are paralyzed (that is why we do not act out our dreams). The muscles of the throat down to the voice box also relax.
Snoring is caused by the relaxing throat muscles vibrating against each other. The louder the snore, the smaller the opening. The condition is considered sleep apnea when the throat size narrows by 50 percent or more for at least ten seconds, because then the lungs run out of air. Blood oxygen levels fall and blood pressure rises. The brain sometimes bumps itself back into light sleep which awakens the throat, but not the sleeper. This continuous interrupting in deep sleep and bouts of low oxygen and high blood pressure promotes strokes and heart attacks.
Another thing about sleep apnea is it harder to lose weight because the affected are too tired to exercise and tend to sit around more. A person with sleep apnea also does not secrete the chemical that stops you from eating. Those who lack sleep tend to snack on sugary foods that give them a boost of energy leading them to extra calories.
People who sleep on their back are more prone to sleep apnea because the belly has to work harder to push the belly off the lungs which causes the throat to collapse.