What Is Sleep Apnea And Why You Shouldn't Neglect It

Just what is sleep apnea? In today’s fast paced lifestyle, people seldom find time for a good-night sleep.

Excessive work, unhealthy diet, less work-outs and hitting the bed late shrink the resting time, which is tad important!

It is a well concluded in the medical circle that individuals should at least get a sleep of 8 hours in a day.

It is not just necessary to put your body to rest for the day’s hard work, but also a time when your body cells work in synchronization to refresh you for the next days tasks!

A good quality sleep helps your brain and heart get optimum oxygen for rejuvenation. Skipping a restful sleep may decrease your concentration and affect the activities you do.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

The events when a person’s breathing is interrupted either due to physical constraints or neural problems is sleep apnea.The breathing cessation varies in individuals. It can be as little as 5-10 times or even up to a hundred times in a night! The main cause for sleep apnea is lack of oxygen in the body.

Physical constraints such as a deviated septum, development of tonsils, enlargement of tissues in the airway etc are few reasons that contribute to Sleep Apnea formation. While, inability of the brain to send signals to the respiratory system to breathe makes the individual gasp for breath.

General Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea

  • Loud snorts during the period of sleep
  • Choking and gasping for breath
  • Reduced concentration and focus while working
  • Daytime sleepiness and fatigue
  • Early morning headaches
  • Restlessness during night

Types Of Sleep Apnea

Depending on the causes of the condition, Sleep Apnea can be categorized into three types:
a. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
b. Central Sleep Apnea
c. Mixed/Complex Sleep Apnea

A. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

The throat muscles hold your airway open enabling a consistent flow of air via the respiratory system. When due to physical constraints there is a collapse of the airway it becomes difficult for air to reach the brain and heart. The deprived oxygen condition results in the chest wall muscles along with the diaphragm working harder to open the airway.

This causes the individual to snort, gasp for breath and ultimately forced wakening. This happens from a few to hundred times during the night. Any physical constraint that leads to breath pauses during the period of sleep is Sleep Apnea.

What Is Sleep Apnea

Causes Of OSA

OSA can be developed by anyone despite of gender and age. However, there are certain factors that increase the chances of getting OSA. Some of which are:

- Excess Weight

It is normal observation that individuals having more than normal weight are victims of OSA. The throat tissues of obese people tend to have higher fat deposit which obstructs the airway when sleeping.

- Deviated Septum

A deviated septum adds to breathing difficulty as it reduces the tract of the airway passage. It becomes uneasy and inconvenient for the individual to breathe during the night.

- Smoking and Alcohol

Smoking affects the respiratory tract adversely as the nicotine content of the cigarettes coagulates within thereby reducing the flow of air on a consistent basis. Drinking alcohol just before hitting the bed slows down the body mechanism. It affects the throat tissues which starts to weigh higher and obstruct the airway.

- Genetic

A family history of OSA is good reason for you to encounter OSA sometime in your life.

Symptoms Of OSA

  • Loud snores
  • Sweating in night
  • Forced awakenings from sleep
  • Daytime fatigue

Neglecting OSA Symptoms Leads To

- Elevated Blood Pressure

Inconsistent supply of oxygen to the body leads to a chain of events. That includes breath cessations, frequent awakenings, stress, and abnormal hormonal release all of which lead to increased blood pressure. A drop in oxygen level in the blood also contributes to to the problem.

- Developing heart diseases

Low oxygen count in the body causes stress on the heart valves to supplement available oxygen in the body. This increases the heartbeat and pulse rate of the individual. Chances of cardiovascular problems are high if the issue persists.

- Obesity

Encountering OSA makes your body release Ghrelin (hormone that makes you crave for sweets and carbs). It is not always that whatever you eat leads to energy formation in the body. This increases the probability of you catching obesity.

Treating OSA

Thankfully there are easy methods available to treat OSA. For the milder alternatives, change in lifestyle can help to large extent. Therapies that involve using support of medical devices help those who have a moderate to severe apnea. Otherwise your physician might suggest you for surgery in critical apnea conditions.

Lifestyle Changes

- Getting Off Obesity

Being overweight pushes the throat tissues to fall back in the airway and block the passage of air when you lie down. This creates difficulty in breathing for the user.

- Quit Smoking

Smoking creates a polluted environment inside the respiratory system and narrows the airway. Smoking just before bedtime is still more dangerous.

- Alcohol

Alcohol temporarily causes the body to slow down and affects the throat muscles too. Consuming alcohol before bedtime leads to a swollen airway and little space for air to move in.

- Not Exercising

Not exercising regularly disallows the body to burn the calories. The food consumed fails to get converted into energy and leads to fat deposition. This contributes to heavy throat muscles that create difficulty in breathing when you lie down.


For the mild to severe cases of OSA, your physician might advise you with CPAP therapy. CPAP is the abbreviation for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. It is a small device that helps keep your airway unblocked during sleep by supplying consistent supply of air.

CPAP therapy involves a small motor that draws air from the surrounding. The air is pressurized to a preset setting for delivery into the mask for the individual to breathe. The pressure in the air prevents the involuntary muscle collapse and thereby helping the individual breathe.

For people who need a constant air pressure range, CPAP machines are a perfect solution. And for those who need a slightly broad pressure range, using a CPAP-Flex is advisable. For a higher range of air pressure Auto-CPAP suits best as it automatically adjusts the pressure as needed by the individuals respiratory system.

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B. Central Sleep Apnea

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is a condition when the brain fails to signal the respiratory system to breathe. CSA is less common than OSA. It is seen in individuals who have an illness that is related to the lower brainstem, which controls the breathing functions. This condition is found mostly in adults with an age category above 60. However, any type of age category or gender can fetch CSA.

Causes Of CSA

CSA is more of a medical condition as compared to OSA. The causes of CSA are associated with medical functions that affect the breathing mechanism. Some of the known causes of CSA include:

- Idiopathic CSA

When an individual encounters CSA for no known or related diseases.

- Cheyne-Stokes Breathing

Stroke, heart failure or a possible kidney failure affects the brain’s ability to allow the body to breathe.

- Other Medical Problems

This include heart and kidney problems that are unrelated to CSA, yet impacts the brain to resist breathing.

- Drugs

Using opiates has an adverse effect on the brain and impairs its breathing capability.

Causes Of Sleep Apnea

Symptons Of CSA

  • Daytime fatigue and sleepiness
  • Frequent awakening during sleep because of lack of breath
  • Abrupt mood swings
  • Difficulty in concentration

Risk Factors And Conditions Associated With CSA

- Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Central Sleep Apnea results in CHF, a condition when the heart becomes incapable to pump blood as per body’s requirement. As a consequence, the blood returns back to the heart and increases pressure on blood vessels and lungs. This elevated pressure levels seeps the blood into the lungs. This further makes it harder for the individual to breathe.

CSA occurs in 30%-50% of patients suffering from CSA.

- Brain Tumors

These conditions can affect the brain’s ability to regulate the breathing mechanism. Developing a stroke or lesions in the brainstem too has an adverse impact on the brain.

Treating CSA With BiPAP Therapy

BiPAP is the abbreviation for Bi-Level Positive Airway Pressure, and is a term coined by Philips Respironics for their machines.

Individuals suffering from CSA generally need a variable air pressure during Inhalation (IPAP) and exhalation (EPAP). On the contrary, CPAP machines work on a single pressure range for both inhalation and exhalation. Patients on whom the CPAP therapy was found to be ineffective are advised for using BiPAP machines. The IPAP pressure is higher than the EPAP pressure, making it comfortable for the users to breathe during the period of sleep.

Patients with CHF should advise with their physicians as using a BiPAP could have adverse effects.

Treating CSA With ASV Therapy

ASV is the abbreviation of Adaptive Servo-Ventilation. The inspiratory pressure in ASV is adjusted on breath-to-breath basis to normalize the breathing mechanism. ASV also adjusts the breath automatically if the patient fails to breathe in a certain number of seconds. Patients suffering from CHF are advised to consult with their physician before going for ASV therapy.

Parting Thoughts About Sleep Apnea

Neglecting Sleep Apnea is not just a bad idea, but it’s consequences can be fatal. Whenever you encounter symptoms of the condition, book an appointment with your physician. Try the following tips:

  • Keep you weight under check. Avoid junk food, cigarettes or alcohol just before bed
  • Keep exercising regularly. Doing Yoga will help your internal organs function efficiently
  • While getting treated for sleep therapy, ensure you follow all the precautions set by the physician