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Do You Consistently Have Trouble Sleeping? It May Be Sleep Apnea

By Catherine Gordon
Updated February 4, 2015

Do you find that you feel sleepy all the time and that you haven’t had a good night of restful sleep? Or do you thrash about and can’t lie still?
Is your snoring so heavy and loud that it wakes you up during the night? There’s a possibility that you have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a condition that affects 18 million Americans, can strike at any age, affects men more than women and comes with risks to your health. It is treatable, though, and treatment can restore quality of sleep, leading to improved quality of life.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

The literal translation of apnea means “without breath.” It’s shorthand for the brief and involuntary cessation of breathing during sleep.

There are three causes: physical, central nervous system or a combination of both… more on that later.

Someone who is sound asleep literally stops breathing for a brief period of time. In response to this, the brain realizes that oxygen isn’t being brought into the body and sends out a signal to wake. Rolling over, kicking legs or flailing arms is usually sufficient enough to get the lungs to expand and bring in oxygen.

The problem is that this cycle can happen hundreds of time in one night. The end result is tiredness even after a full night of rest and a sensation of not being fully recharged. Because this happens every night during sleep, the tiredness and fatigue builds up to a semi-permanent state of existence.

The Different Types of Apnea

As previously mentioned, there are three different causes of apnea: obstructive, central and mixed.

  • Obstructive is a blockage of the airway, typically caused by the collapse of soft tissues in the back of the throat.
  • Central is the failure of the central nervous system to send a signal to the muscles for breathing.
  • Mixed is a combination of the two and each can play a role to a varying degree.

Snoring is one of the signs of apnea, but is not necessarily always a symptom. Sometimes a person snores because their soft tissues collapse, they have large tonsils, are obese or alcoholics. These factors also play a role in apnea, but are not always evidence that there is an active case of apnea happening.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Apnea

The only surefire way with which to diagnose apnea is to do a sleep study. The process begins with the primary care physician who then refers the patient to a center for the study.

During the study, the patient is connected to monitors and observed throughout the night. The monitors detect unusual patterns or stopping of breathing, creating a definite diagnosis of the issue.

Treatment ranges from changes in lifestyle, such as losing weight or stopping drinking, changing how one sleeps, or nasal strips to keep the airways open to mechanical intervention. However, it’s not possible to lose weight overnight or quit drinking in one day.

Pin It For that, the CPAP machine is a viable option, although it has its issues in terms of comfort.

The CPAP machine is a mask that goes over the mouth and nose and is connected to a machine that creates airflow. The airflow has a mild pressure to it, forcing air into the passages and preventing the soft tissues of the throat from closing. This action brings a constant flow of air to the lungs and overrides the collapse of soft tissues and/or the failure of the central nervous system. It normalizes the sleep cycle, keeps oxygen levels steady and makes a good night of sleep possible again.

If you think that you are suffering from sleep apnea, see your primary care physician for an initial diagnosis and potential treatment options.

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Katherine Hurst
By Catherine Gordon
Catherine Gordon (PhD) has a background teaching and researching analytic philosophy. She is also a practising therapist who works with individuals and couples on issues relating to relationship difficulties, emotional well-being and self-improvement.

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