What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Sleep Apnea, most commonly refers to Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) which is a dangerous sleep disorder. Obstructive Sleep Apnea involves the complete obstruction of the airway while sleeping. This obstruction prevents air from entering the lungs. This event is what the term Apnea refers to. It is the most common type of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB). Obstructive Sleep Apnea is characterized by recurrent episodes of airway collapse during sleep. Events of Apnea are always accompanied with arousals (a disturbance from deep sleep to light sleep) or an awakening (regaining consciousness) from sleep.
Sleep Apnea is really about oxygen! During apnea events the body is denied oxygen. Normal blood oxygenation is at 90%- 95%. An apnea event can drive that level into the 80’s% or even 70’s%. These levels of oxygenation are damaging and dangerous!
An apnea event occurs when someone is in deep or dreaming (REM) sleep. In REM sleep the muscles of the body relax, including the muscles of the head and neck. When this happens, the lower jaw (mandible) and tongue fall back and the tongue blocks the airway (throat or pharynx). The brain senses the decrease in oxygen as dangerous and arouses or awakens the person out of deep sleep either into light sleep or to an awakened state. The frequent arousals from the many apneas people experience during the night results in a fragmented sleep and therefore excessive daytime sleepiness.
A critical issue with an apnea event is how long the event lasts and how long oxygen is cut off. When the airway is blocked for more than ten seconds oxygen loss begins to occur. Most apnea events last 20 to 30 seconds. It’s not unusual for events to last up to up to 60 or even 90 seconds. These events can ultimately lead to a condition of oxygen denial called hypoxia, which is very dangerous and even life threatening.
Another critical measure of sleep apneas severity is the frequency of apnea events. In cases of significant severity between 100 and 400 or more apnea events can be experienced in a single night.
When you consider how Sleep Apnea disrupts sleep it’s no wonder sleepiness is one of the most common symptoms of the disorder.
“It has been working. I can tell the difference because I have more energy. As for the snoring it has improved. … I’m happy I came to get my sleep apnea under control.”
– Melissa Tomaszewski
How Serious Is Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can make other potentially fatal illnesses far worse.
Apnea events are often accompanied by wide swings in heart rate, a precipitous decrease in oxygen saturation, and brief electroencephalograph (EEG) arrhythmias.
If you have severe untreated obstructive sleep apnea you may be shortening your life!
During apnea events the brain perceives that the body is suffocating. This perception is triggered by decreasing oxygen levels. The brain, particularly the Hypothalamus responds to this plummeting oxygen level releasing hormones that triggers the Pituitary Gland and the Adrenal Glands. These hormones include Epinephrine (adrenaline) and Cortisol. Additionally sugars are also released into the blood, which stimulates the pancreas to release large amounts of insulin. It’s not unusual for OSA patients to become insulin resistant leading to Adult Type 2 Diabetes. The result of these events reoccurring hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of times over extended periods causes enormous stress and damage to the body. It can be and often is devastating to health and wellness. During these apnea events loud snoring is very common.
No Skid Marks! No Mystery
Police, firemen and EMS professionals know it well. It’s the scene of a fatal accident. It was a grisly, high speed impact with no skid marks, no attempt to brake! Unsolvable mystery? Not really. Sleeping drivers don’t brake, they just kill themselves and others.
Some of the health consequences of Obstructive Sleep Apnea:
- Heart failure
- Cardiac arrhythmia (Atrial Fibrillation)
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Coronary artery disease (blood flow restriction to the brain)
- Insulin-resistance diabetes (Adult Type 2 Diabetes)
- Metabolic syndrome (including chronic inflammation, obesity, dyslipidemia)
- Short term memory loss (a common symptom of dementia)
- Mood disorders (anxiety and depression)
- Decreased testosterone in men (loss of sexual desire)
- Decreased estrogen in women (decreased libido)
- Chronic pain
- TMJ (temporal-mandibular joint dysfunction)
- Sleep related accidents (especially while driving)
Sleep Apnea Is an Epidemic
We believe that up to eighty million (80,000,000) Americans have some form of sleep breathing disorders. This alarming number includes children. According to the National Sleep Foundation between 80 and 90% of Americans with OSA remain undiagnosed and untreated.
The Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
- Persistent sleepiness during the day
- Headaches upon wakening
- Disturbed or fragmented sleep
- Periods of not breathing while sleeping (witnessed apnea)
How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed
The first step in diagnosis is screening. Some screening tests are subjective questionnaires to determine levels of sleepiness or risk factors for sleep apnea. Other screening methods include home sleep tests and overnight pulse-Oxyimetery.
If you screen positive for being at risk for obstructive sleep apnea, the next step is a sleep study. A sleep study allows the physician to make a definitive diagnosis and whether or not you are a candidate for therapy. This sleep study is called a Polysomnography (PSG), is performed in a sleep center lab or by utilizing a home study testing device.
Who Suffers From Sleep Apnea
Although Obstructive Sleep Apnea is most common in middle aged and older people, sleep apnea is prevalent in young adults as well. Excessive weight predisposes a person to OSA but many thin, in-shape people can have sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is slightly more common in men that woman, but women can have very severe apnea.