Sleep apnea is a respiratory disorder wherein breathing stops for brief periods of time, often dozens of times per night.
Three Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three general types of sleep apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) and Complex Sleep Apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: In OSA, the soft tissue and muscles in the throat relax excessively and the airway is temporarily blocked, causing a brief cessation of respiration. The tissue and muscles involved in this disorder are the uvula, tongue, soft palate and tonsils. When breathing ceases, the brain senses the decrease of oxygen levels in the blood and causes a brief period of awakening, enough to cause the individual to resume breathing again. These periods of wakefulness are often so brief that the sleeping individual has no memory of waking from their slumber. Some individuals with OSA may awaken with a snorting, gasping or choking sound, something that sleep partners may notice more than the sleeping individual, who may actually think that they sleep relatively well. However, many individuals with OSA report daytime sleepiness and generally poor sleep quality.
Central Sleep Apnea: With this disorder, the brain is the culprit, failing to send messages to the body’s muscles of respiration. CSA is much more rare than OSA, but the symptoms of sleepiness and awakening with shortness of breath can be very similar to OSA. Snoring and sleepiness during the day are also common.
Complex Sleep Apnea: This disorder involves both a physical obstruction of the airway during sleep as well as problems with the timing and rhythm of respiration.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Although slightly different for some individuals, symptoms of sleep apnea can include:
• Loud snoring
• Excessive sleepiness during the day (also called hypersomnia)
• Sore throat or very dry mouth upon awakening
• Difficulty staying asleep (as opposed to initially falling asleep)
• Observation by sleep partner of cessation of breathing during sleep
• Waking abruptly with symptoms of shortness of breath, snorting or choking
Risk factors for sleep apnea are varied, but include: