What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep condition in which breathing frequently stops and starts. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, you could suffer from sleep apnea.

The three forms of sleep apnea include: 

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: occurs when throat muscles relax
  • Central sleep apnea: when the brain doesn’t send proper signals to breathing control muscles
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome: known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea. Occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. 

Symptoms of sleep apnea

The signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apnea coincide, sometimes making it challenging to determine which type you have. The most common symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep 
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Easily irritated

It’s always best to talk to a professional if you’re concerned about your health. Talk to your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of sleep apnea and mention any of the above if you’re concerned. 

What causes sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea

This form of sleep apnea transpires when the muscles in the back of your throat relax. When the muscles relax, airways narrow or close as you breathe in, restricting the amount of air which can then lower the oxygen levels in your blood. Your brain senses your inability to breathe and shortly awakens you so that you can reopen your airway. This awakening is usually so brief that you don’t even remember it when you wake up properly. You might snort, choke or gasp and this pattern can repeat itself five to 30 times each hour, all night long. 

Central sleep apnea

This less common type of sleep apnea happens when your brain fails to transmit signals to your breathing muscles. This means that you make no effort to breathe for a short period of time when sleeping. You might awaken with shortness of breath or have a difficult time getting to and remaining asleep. 

Risk factors of sleep apnea 

Sleep apnea can affect anyone, even children. But certain factors increase your risk. These risks include: 

  • Excess weight. Obesity greatly increases the risk of sleep apnea
  • Neck circumference. People with thicker necks might have narrower airways
  • Narrowed airway 
  • Age. Sleep apnea occurs significantly more often in older adults
  • Family history 
  • Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea as this can increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway
  • Nasal congestion
  • Certain medical conditions 

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