Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which you stop breathing multiple times throughout the night. There are three main types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central and complex sleep apnea syndrome.
Obstructive is the most common type and is caused by your throat muscles incorrectly relaxing. When the muscles relax, your airway narrows or closes. This makes taking a breath difficult. Usually your brain will sense this inability to breathe and wake you. Most people immediately go back to sleep after being woken up, leaving them unaware of the problem and thinking they slept right through the night.
Central sleep apnea is caused by a neurological issue, occurring when your brain is not sending the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. This leads to your body making no effort to breathe for a short period of time. Those with this type of sleep apnea will often awaken with shortness of breath.
Complex sleep apnea syndrome is a combination of obstructive and central.
Loud snoring and multiple episodes of breathing cessation are the most common and telltale symptoms of sleep apnea. Abrupt awakenings, a headache and dry mouth or sore throat when waking are additional signs. If you are snoring loud enough to wake your partner or wake up gasping for breath you should consult a doctor.
In order to diagnose sleep apnea, your doctor will review your medical history. An overnight sleep observation will then be performed. There are two types, a nocturnal polysomnography or a home sleep test. A nocturnal polysomnography requires you to spend the night at a sleep clinic while your heart, lungs and brain are monitored. A home sleep test is a much simpler test that can be performed in the comfort of your own home. A small machine will monitor your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, airflow and breathing patterns.
Treatments for apnea can range from home remedies to surgery. Often, lifestyle changes such as losing weight or quitting smoking can do the trick. If you are suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, surgery may be required to remove the blockage in your nose or throat. One of the most common therapies is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This machine provides you with air pressure through a mask while you sleep, which helps keep your airwaves open. With so many options for therapies you and your doctor can work together to figure out which works best for your type of sleep apnea.