Polyphasic Sleep

Understanding Sleep Apnea

By Alec Trembath

Sleep apnea is defined as the termination of respirations for 10 seconds or more during sleep. Some interruptions in breathing are normal during sleeping. However, if you experience a pause lasting longer than ten seconds more than 5 times an hour, you may have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is perhaps one of the most disturbing disorders that have been included in this series. While exploding head syndrome is startling and sleep paralysis is terrifying, you may be experiencing sleep apnea and not even know it. Most people who suffer from sleep apnea are unaware that they suffer from this sleep condition. They may only feel symptoms while awake.  The only legitimate way to know if you suffer from sleep apnea is by participating in a sleep study.

Types of Sleep Apnea

It is estimated that around 18 million adults in America suffer from sleep apnea. Children may also experience sleep apnea but at a lower rate (2 in 100). These figures reflect only diagnosed individuals. It is possible that these numbers may be higher but the people suffering may not seek treatment or may not even know.

There are 3 main forms of this condition:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This form of sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the throat fail to keep the airway open during sleep. People with obstructive sleep apnea often snore, which is a symptom of these muscles not being fully opened.
  • Central Sleep Apnea: When the brain fails to send proper signals to muscles that are responsible for respirations we get central sleep apnea. This form of apnea may be the result of other underlying medical conditions such as problems with the brainstem. Individuals who are obese, have suffered a stroke or other brain injury may also suffer from central sleep apnea. People who also fall asleep intoxicated can experience central sleep apnea.
  • Complex Sleep Apnea: Complex sleep apnea is a mixture of obstructive and central sleep apnea. People who have suffered stroke and experience muscle paralysis may have this form of sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

It is difficult to tell if you are experiencing sleep apnea at night. However, you may notice the symptoms of sleep apnea during the day, while falling asleep, or when waking up.

Some common symptoms may include but are not limited to:

  • Insomnia
  • Feeling tired all-day
  • Sleep paralysis when falling asleep or waking up
  • Snoring
  • Experiencing microsleeps
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Dry throat and dry mouth

These are common among many sleep disorders. As with any disease, don’t try to diagnose yourself. The only way to determine if you have sleep apnea is by participating in a sleep study of some kind. Keeping a sleep journal for a week is recommended. Sleep journals help you and your physician better understand your sleep habits. There are kits available to do sleep studies at home if you are uncomfortable going somewhere else.

Tips to Improve Your Breathing

There are a few different options that may help you breathe easy. Some are simple, such as positioning devices like special pillows. Other devices can be worn to help keep the airway open. Another might be diet and exercise. Diet and exercise are not just treatment options for individuals who are obese. Slimmer people who experience sleep apnea will also benefit greatly from them.

If these options are not enough a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine can also be an option. CPAP works by continuously forcing air through the mouth and nose. Although it takes some getting used to, the benefits of CPAP are well worth it. If properly diagnosed, a CPAP machine can be prescribed by your physician.

Final Thoughts

Depending on the severity, sleep apnea can contribute to heart disease. This is another reason the disorder is so disturbing. While other sleep disorders can affect health indirectly, sleep apnea can be fatal if it is severe enough. Don’t put off getting treatment and living a better quality of life.