The term “sleep apnea” is one that many people have heard but not everyone understands.  Knowing what it means is important, however, since it’s a major cause of serious health issues.  Let’s review the definition of this all-too-common disorder and talk about the three types of sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is characterized by abnormal pauses during breathing, and/or unusually shallow breathing, occurring while a person is asleep. Each pause can go on from a few seconds to more than a minute, and may occur as much as 30 times an hour.

There are three forms of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is by far the most common form of the disorder.  It’s caused by the walls of the throat partially collapsing during sleep and causing obstructed breathing.  This leads to such symptoms as loud, prolonged snoring; restlessness during sleep; and pronounced tiredness during waking hours.
  • Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is a less common form of the disorder, in which the brain literally forgets to tell the lungs to inhale.  In extreme cases this can cause brain damage or even death, but this is rare.
  • Complex or Mixed Sleep Apnea is a combination of both forms of the disorder, generally beginning with OSA and leading to incidents of CSA.

As the great majority of Apnea sufferers fall into the OSA category, the rest of this article will focus on that form of the disorder.  If you believe you might be suffering from any of the other types of sleep apnea, we urge you to contact your medical professional for expert advice.

Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Researchers have noticed that those who develop this disorder have one or more of the following characteristics in common:

  • They are overweight or obese
  • They are often smokers
  • Very commonly they suffer from Type 2 , or Adult Onset, Diabetes
  • They have high blood pressure (hypertension), and often a history of heart disease, stroke, or other cardiovascular problems

One of the reasons that overweight people tend to develop this disorder is that the linings of their throats often have larger amounts of soft tissue deposits than thinner persons.  This contributes to the narrowing of the airway during sleep.  Smoking causes irritation to the throat and can add to this issue as well.  Diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, etc. are more likely effects of being overweight than direct causes of apnea.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea:
Those who have the disorder are rarely aware that their breathing is interrupted while they sleep.  Instead, it’s usually noticed by a partner, who discovers the sufferer snoring excessively, shifting about while sleeping, or ceasing to breathe.

A formal diagnosis can only be made by conducting a sleep study.  The patient spends the night at a special clinic, during which technicians observe them and monitor their vital signs.

Treatment Options:
These will vary depending on how severe the apnea is.  In mild cases the problem can be corrected by encouraging the person to sleep on their side.  A common means of changing your sleep position is to sew a tennis ball into the back of a pajama top or night shirt.  This will prevent you from rolling over onto your back while asleep.

For more severe cases, a common treatment is to have the airway obstruction corrected by use of a special mask attached to a tube.  The tube runs to a mechanical tank that pumps air into the person’s mouth at a very gentle rate, just enough to stop the walls of the throat from collapsing.

Surgery to remove the soft tissue in the throat is sometimes recommended.  While this corrects the issue, it also often makes the patient more susceptible to respiratory infections. For this reason, it is utilized less than other treatments.

At Parklane Mattresses, our mission is to help your sleep to be as restful as possible.  Check out our line of fine mattresses and other products, and contact us with any questions you might have.  No matter who you are, we can help to make your snooze time more relaxing and refreshing.