Sleeping Disorders #5 – Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a health condition far more serious than what most would think of.

Sleep apnea is a health condition that happens when one’s breathing during sleep stop for a while, usually 10 seconds or even longer.

Sleep apnea could happen 5 to 45 times per hour.

Sleep apnea is usually associated with choking sensations and often leads to headaches and sleepiness during the day.

Its moderateness or severity is measured with respect to the frequency of episodes per hour, whether you have no breathing (apnea) or slower breathing (hyponea).

Sleep apnea occurs mostly but not limited to men and not specific to any age group. Loud snoring is usually associated with apnea. People with high blood pressure and obese are most likely to developed sleep apnea.

Problems in the nose, throat, and air passageway can also cause sleep apnea. Early detection of sleep apnea is very important since it is usually implies an underlying health conditions such as heart problems.

In some cases, apnea happen when the muscles in the throat & tongue relax when one is sleeping, which eventually lead to blockage of the air passageway to some varying degree.

Then breathing becomes noisier, slow, or even stop for a while. Obese people have great possibilities of having sleep apnea since they have more tissue in the airway that makes it narrow for normal breathing.

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Sleep apnea makes an active person feel sleepy in the morning and affects their concentration in work. Severe sleep apnea could lead to depression, memory loses, irritability, and other negative socio-psychological conditions.

Sleep apnea could increase the risk of having a heart attack, high blood pressure and even stroke.

One should suspect having a sleep apnea disorder when the following conditions occur: 

1. Heavy snoring during sleep while struggling to breath. This is usually monitored by the spouse or room mate.

2. Co-workers noticing one’s lack of concentration at work and falling to sleep frequently.

3. Headaches upon waking up from sleep.

4. Frequent urination at night.

5. Heartburn during the night.

6. Frequent changing in sleep position restlessly.

7. Night time choking episodes.

Detecting sleep apnea is a collaborative effort among your family physician, neurologist, and pulmonologist.

Among the tests for diagnosing person with such disorder are Polysommography and The Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT). Polysomnography monitors different functions of the body during sleep such as brain activity, movement of the eye, movement of the muscles, heart beating, blood oxygen.

The test will also determine whether the condition is moderate or severe. The Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) measures how fast the individual fall into sleep.

Normal people fall into sleep in 10 to 20 minutes on the average while people with sleep apnea disorder fall into sleep in 5 minutes or less. Additionally, MSLT is use to measure the daytime sleepiness of the person.

Types of treatments for sleep apnea; 

1. Behavioral Therapy. Is usually all that is needed for a mild case. It changes the person behavior towards the use of alcohol, tobacco which affects the airway. For an obese person, the therapy also includes weight loss program.

Overweight persons can benefit from losing weight. Even a small amount of weight loss will lower the frequency of apnea in majority of patients.

2. Physical or Mechanical Therapy. Here is one of the most effective ways of treating sleep apnea. During the therapy, the patient wears a mask on his nose during sleep while applying air pressure to the nasal passages.

The therapy provides air pressure to keep the airway from narrowing.

3. Surgery for adults. Surgery is considered only when other alternative therapy failed or if the patient volunteered to. Surgery aims to remove unnecessary tissue build-up in the throat to open up the airway.


The best cure to sleep apnea is prevention. There are several ways to prevent one from having to develop sleep apnea and reduce the frequency of the attacks: 

1. Many Sleep apnea patients are obese. Maintaining a healthy weight is a sure way to prevent the frequency of apnea episodes since it increases the volume of oxygen in the blood. Studies showed that a 10 percent decrease in weight would reduce the frequency of apnea episodes up to 26 percent.

2. Avoid or at least limit alcohol intake.

3. Avoid or limit the use of tranquilizers, sleeping pills.

4. Have time for enough sleep. Lack of sleep increase the frequency of apnea attacks.

5. Treat allergies and runny nose promptly.

6. Avoid sleeping on your back.

Sleep apnea is a serious disease. It could be just a symptom of other more serious illness such as hypertension and heart disease.

Should you suspect having the symptoms, take time to visit your family physician.

Early detection and diagnoses of sleep apnea could save your life.