What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. This disorder is common, but it can lead to automobile accidents, high blood pressure, and other serious problems. Once a diagnosis is made, several treatments are available.
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person experiences interrupted breathing while sleeping. It usually occurs in association with fat buildup or loss of muscle tone with aging. These changes allow the windpipe to collapse during breathing when muscles relax during sleep. This problem, called obstructive sleep apnea, is usually associated with loud snoring, although not everyone who snores has this disorder. Sleep apnea can also occur due to a malfunction of the neurons that control breathing during sleep.
During an episode of obstructive sleep apnea, the person's effort to inhale air creates suction that collapses the windpipe. This blocks the air flow for 10 seconds to a minute while the sleeping person struggles to breathe. When the person's blood oxygen level falls, the brain responds by awakening the person enough to tighten the upper airway muscles and open the windpipe. The person may snort or gasp, then resume snoring. This cycle may be repeated hundreds of times a night.
An estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. However, few of them have had the problem diagnosed. The disorder occurs in all age groups and in both sexes, but is more common in men, people who are overweight or obese, and older persons.