What is Sleep Apnea?
An estimated 18 million Americans suffer from a common sleep disorder known as sleep apnea. Experts suggest that of these cases, two to four percent are currently undiagnosed. So, what is sleep apnea?
The word "apnea" comes from a Greek word meaning "want of breath". Affected individuals will experience pauses in breathing during sleep, and sometimes shallow breathing. These pauses may occur as many as thirty times an hour, and can last anywhere from mere seconds to sometimes longer than a minute. Often, the cessation in breathing will be accompanied by choking or snorting when the individual is able to breathe again, frequently resulting in the individual (and their bedmate) suddenly waking up.
Why Does Sleep Apnea Occur?
While there are many different types of sleep apnea, the most common type is obstructive sleep apnea. During typical sleep, the airways of the throat remain open, and allow for passing airflow. Sometimes, this airway can become constricted or blocked, which typically results in snoring. For people who suffer from sleep apnea, this airway can collapse and either close completely or become too narrow for normal airflow. When airflow is disrupted, blood oxygen levels decrease and the brain sends a message to the body instructing it to wake up, or gasp for air.
A Serious Sleep Disorder
In addition to afflicted individuals experiencing interrupted sleep, sleep apnea has been known to increase the risk of stroke and has been immediately associated with hypertension. Sleep apnea can be a life threatening disease if left unattended, and sufferers are three times more likely to have heart disease. According to one study, roughly 38,000 deaths per year are attributed to cardiovascular problems that somehow relate to sleep apnea.