Sleep apnea is a chronic sleep disorder in which breathing stops or becomes shallow during sleep. These pauses can last seconds or even minutes. There are 3 different types of sleep apnea that can cause an individual to stop breathing during sleep: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA), and complex sleep apnea, also known as mixed sleep apnea. While sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder, it can be a serious condition.
What is obstructive sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. Over 25 million adults in the U.S. have it. It occurs when muscles in the back of the throat, which support structures such as the tongue, uvula, soft palate and tonsils, relax. When this happens, the airway becomes blocked and breathing stops. Cessation of breathing usually lasts 10 to 20 seconds, but can be longer. This can cause a decrease in blood oxygen levels. The brain panics when this happens and wakes the body. The brief awakening can occur up to 30 times an hour and, even though most people don’t remember it, it can be disruptive to sleep cycles.
What are the symptoms and causes of OSA?
The most common symptom of OSA is snoring. However, not everyone who snores has OSA. Snoring that occurs with OSA is very loud and is identifiable by periods of silence when breathing stops. There are many other symptoms such as excessive sleepiness during the day, which can lead to a lack of concentration, waking up in the middle of the night short of breath, dry mouth, sore throat and chest pain upon waking up, morning headaches and changes in mood. Causes of OSA include age, obesity, which could increase soft tissue around the airway, as well as structural deformities of the airway and a decrease in muscle tone, which could be caused by alcohol, substance abuse, or other underlying health conditions.
What is central sleep apnea?
Central sleep apnea occurs when the respiratory control centers of the brain become dysfunctional during sleep. This means that the body makes no effort to start breathing after it stops, there is no chest movement and the muscles that control breathing don’t relax or contract. When an individual wakes up, they cannot immediately start breathing, which leads to a sense of panic. Several cycles of breathing can be missed and this causes a decrease in oxygen and an increase on carbon dioxide in the body. Like obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea episodes usually last 10 to 20 seconds and can cause nighttime awakening, disrupting sleep cycles. However, central sleep apnea is associated with even lower oxygen levels than obstructive sleep apnea.
What are the symptoms and causes of CSA?
Like OSA, symptoms of CSA include fatigue, headaches, and irritability. They also include changes in voice, weakness, shortness of breath and problems swallowing. However, CSA is not characterized by snoring. Rather, during sleep, there is no movement in the chest or abdominal area for 10 or more seconds. Also, there is an inability to exhale completely and individuals wake up with the urgent need to breathe but are unable to upon waking. There are several causes of CSA which include heart problems, brain disorders, medications and other substances.
What is complex/mixed sleep apnea?
Complex sleep apnea is the least common form of sleep apnea. It can be described as an individual having both OSA and CSA. It occurs when central sleep apnea episodes emerge when obstructive sleep apnea problems have been treated using positive airway pressure, and there are no underlying health problems or habits that are causing the CSA.
Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, hazardous daytime fatigue, eye and vision problems and mood and psychiatric disorders. Individuals with sleep apnea are 30% more likely to have a heart attack or heart related death than those without it. If you or someone you love are experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea contact your healthcare provider and MHSleepTestingTM.MHSleepTestingTM can provide you with an at home sleep test that will be able to determine if you have sleep apnea.