What is Sleep Apnea?

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is medically referred to as obstructive sleep apnea. It is caused when airflow to the lungs is restricted by an obstruction. The sufferer literally stops breathing for a short period of time.

It becomes a problem if the person stops breathing for more than 10 seconds each time. It’s also not uncommon for sufferers to stop breathing up to 10 times every hour. This can obviously be a very worrying condition, but the good news is it can be treated.

Understanding the condition

The blockage in the airway associated with sleep apnea is caused by the throat collapsing. It collapses so much that it actually blocks the airway. It is a problem that mainly affects those who are overweight, though there are other risk factors too.

When the obstruction occurs and you stop breathing, you actually come out of a deep sleep. You are essentially waking up every time your breathing stops. As mentioned, this could be up to 10 times an hour.

This interruption in your sleeping pattern affects your everyday activities. Many sufferers find that they actually fall asleep during the day. For some, they have the potential to fall asleep at work, as well as behind the wheel. Until treated, it is advised that you don’t drive if you suffer with sleep apnea.

Another problem that occurs in those who have sleep apnea is loud snoring. As the throat collapses, the snoring is interrupted by snorting and gasping. For those sleeping next to a person with the condition, it can be really worrying, as well as frustrating.

Is it common?

Sleep apnea is quite a common condition and it tends to occur more in men that it does in women. It also affects older people more than any other age group. Over 60% of adults aged over 60 are thought to have the condition.

There are around 4% of middle aged men who suffer with the problem. However, it’s thought that many sufferers don’t report the condition. The estimated unreported cases are 5% of the UK population.

How to tell if you have sleep apnea

Of course you don’t know you’re waking up when the obstruction occurs. So the question is how can you tell if you’ve got sleep apnea? There are a list of symptoms you can look out for. They include:

  • Extreme tiredness during the day
  • Morning headaches
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Short temper/irritable mood
  • Forgetfulness

If you notice you have one or all of those symptoms then you should consult a doctor. They will be able to tell you whether or not you have sleep apnea. In many cases you’ll need to undergo a sleep study which will show them exactly how many times you wake up in the night.

Overall sleep apnea can be potentially dangerous if it is left untreated. Therefore if you suspect you do have the condition you should see your doctor right away. Refrain from driving if you suffer with extreme tiredness during the day. The good news is there is help available and it’s really effective.