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What Is Sleep Apnea? Everything You Need To Know

Blog Sleep & Wellness
What Is Sleep Apnea? Everything You Need To Know

Sleep disorders can create real disruption to our rest and overall wellness. Sleep apnea is one such example of this - in fact, one in fifteen Americans are said to have this sleep disorder. So what is sleep apnea exactly? Sleep apnea is a condition that affects breathing patterns while sleeping. It is typically caused by obstruction of the airway during sleep.

If you’re constantly feeling drowsy or sleepy, even after getting seven hours of sleep each night, then it’s possible you’re experiencing the impact of a sleep disorder. One of the reasons it can be hard to identify sleep apnea is because some of the most obvious symptoms, from experiencing breathing problems to loud snoring, actually occur while you’re asleep.

Table of Contents

What causes sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious chronic sleep disorder, one that occurs as a result of your breathing stopping mid-sleep. It can cause a wide range of side effects, including loud snoring, daytime tiredness, and even high blood pressure.

Though sleep apnea is fairly common, it often goes undiagnosed, mainly because most of its most common symptoms are undetectable (since they occur during your sleep), unless you share your bed with a partner.

Understanding the different types of sleep apnea, how you might be able to detect early symptoms, and what you can do to prevent it from happening are all going to help you improve your sleep overall.

What are the different types of sleep apnea?

What are the different types of sleep apnea? | Puffy

Sleep apnea can be categorized into three main types. Once you understand what exactly it is you’re dealing with, you can begin effective treatment. The three types of sleep apnea include:

Obstructive sleep apnea

One of the most common variants of the disorder, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax while you’re sleeping and block your airways. When your airways are partially blocked, it can result in snoring, which is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea.

That being said, it’s important to remember that snoring can also occur without someone being at risk for sleep apnea.

Central sleep apnea

A rarer form of sleep apnea than obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea might fall under the category of neurological disorders. This is because unlike your airways being physically stopped by any type of muscle, in the case of central sleep apnea, your brain is unable to send the signals your body needs to keep breathing when you sleep.

Complex sleep apnea

Finally, a more recently identified variation of sleep apnea is complex sleep apnea, which involves a mix of both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Patients with this type of sleep apnea persist in having trouble sleeping, even when airway obstruction is addressed, though doctors are still unsure about how exactly this rare variant occurs.

What Are The Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea?

There are a couple of sure-fire ways to detect whether or not you’re struggling with sleep apnea. If you want to benefit from a full night’s sleep, it’s important to understand how to identify the symptoms of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and do your best to ensure you prevent these from occuring in the first place.

Side-effects of sleep apnea can be wide-ranging and include headaches, drowsiness, forgetfulness, as well as more serious side-effects that include depression, and poor academic or professional performance.

So what are some easy ways to tell if you might be dealing with sleep apnea yourself? Some of the most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Fatigue/Exhaustion during the day
  • Snoring
  • Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • High periods of anxiety
  • Night sweats
  • Headaches
  • Abrupt wakefulness brought on by gasping or choking

Suspect you might have a different type of sleep apnea? These are the telltale signs of central sleep apnea:

  • Poor academic/professional performance
  • Increased occurrence of bedwetting
  • Learning disorders
  • Daytime mouth breathing
  • Trouble swallowing

Certain groups of people have an increased risk of getting sleep apnea than others. If you have a family history of sleep disorders, struggle with asthma or diabetes, it’s very likely that you’re more susceptible to sleep apnea.

If you’re not sure you can identify the source of your trouble sleeping, it’s worth going to your physician to discuss what might be going wrong. Your doctor will ask you if you take any medications that might be affecting your sleep, or if you’ve recently traveled to a place of high altitude since these locations have naturally low levels of oxygen that can cause symptoms of sleep apnea.

How Do You Treat Sleep Apnea?

How Do You Treat Sleep Apnea? | Puffy

Once you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, there are a couple of different treatment options your physician might choose to explore. For milder cases, a couple of key lifestyle changes might be all that stands between ensuring you’re defending yourself properly from sleep apnea. Improving your sleep hygiene can go a long way in improving your susceptibility to sleep disorders, so it’s a good idea to brush up if you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep.

If you’re experiencing more severe symptoms of sleep apnea, your physician might recommend some alternate treatments. One of the most common treatments for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure, also known as CPAP. A CPAP machine will help keep your upper airway passages open, and prevent apnea or snoring from occurring.

Other variations of a CPAP machine might exist to help you automatically adjust the pressure of air while you sleep. These are known as auto-CPAPs. BPAP units are another type of treatment device, one which helps to supply bilevel positive airway pressure, and are another option that varies the pressure according to your breathing.

Your sleep apnea might also be a symptom of other more severe cardiovascular or neurological disorders, and in these cases, your doctor will seek to treat these first. Some might even consider surgical intervention, which involves removing excess tissue to expand your airways.

When Should I Go To The Doctor About My Sleep Disorder?

Whether your sleep disorder has had a debilitating effect on your day-to-day life, or you’re simply suspecting your trouble sleeping might be more than just the product of a little extra stress, it is always worth talking to a physician about your sleep habits.

Those who struggle with sleep apnea in particular also struggle with high blood pressure, strokes, other cardiac events, and liver problems. Though it can be hard to identify you might have a problem in the first place, if you’ve noticed an irregularity in your sleeping patterns, or you’re experiencing excessive amounts of fatigue, then it’s best to try and speak to a physician to get to the bottom of things.

How To Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

How To Improve Your Sleep Hygiene | Puffy

For milder cases of sleep apnea, it’s possible working on your sleep hygiene can go a long way in improving any potential sleep disorders you might be struggling with. Sleep apnea has a high occurrence in people who are overweight, male, smokers, or those who drink before going to bed. Falling asleep with proper sleep hygiene practices in place can make a world of difference to anyone struggling to get proper rest.

Here are a couple of ways you can counteract sleep apnea through your sleep hygiene habits:

  • Avoid drinking before bedtime: Alcohol and certain sedatives can exacerbate the symptoms of sleep apnea. It’s best to have a drink at least three hours before you go to bed if you are having one.
  • Make sure you invest in the right sleep setup: The right mattress and pillows can make a world of difference to your sleep position, and in turn, keep your airways blocked or open. Be sure you have the right support you need for optimal airflow and breathing through the night, whether that’s by making sure you have the best mattress for the job or rearranging your pillows.
  • Create an exercise routine: A regular exercise routine can not only help you maintain a healthy weight but can also help you with achieving truly restorative sleep. Regular exercise has a ton of other health benefits, including reducing your chances of heart disease, improving focus, and boosting mood regulation.
  • Go to sleep at the same time every night: Irregular sleep can confuse your body clock, and make it more challenging to sleep through the night. Sleeping at a set time every night and putting a routine in place can help encourage healthy sleep habits, and keep sleep disorders at bay.

FAQs

What is sleep apnea usually caused by?

One of the most common causes of sleep apnea in adults tends to be weight gain. When the soft tissue of your mouth and throat block your airways, you’re unable to breathe in during your sleep, which is what causes obstructive sleep apnea.

What are the warning signs of sleep apnea?

One of the earliest warning signs you might be struggling with sleep apnea is loud snoring while you sleep. Since snoring occurs when your airways are blocked, it is often a commonly cited symptom of this sleep disorder.

Other warning signs of stopped breathing, excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating through the day, and fatigue. It might be hard to detect the early signs of sleep apnea unless you share a bed with a partner. In these cases, it’s especially important to pay attention to how you’re feeling after you wake up from a full night’s sleep.

What are the 3 types of sleep apnea?

The three types of sleep apnea are obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea. Between these, obstructive sleep apnea is most common. Central sleep apnea and complex sleep apnea are less common and often require medical intervention.

How common is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a fairly common sleep disorder, affecting about 25% of men, and nearly 10% of women. One estimate suggests one in every fifteen adults in the US might have sleep apnea. It is also estimated almost 80% of people in the US who have sleep apnea also go undiagnosed, which makes the potential number significantly higher.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, daytime sleepiness or fatigue, and restlessness during sleep. You might also experience dry mouth first thing in the morning, and abrupt awakenings through the night, during which time you might feel like you’re gasping for breath. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include disturbed sleep, poor concentration throughout the day, and lower performance academically or professionally.

Conclusion

Sleep apnea occurs far more frequently than we realize, and the sooner we get to terms with how to tackle this sleep disorder effectively, the easier it will be to achieve the kind of sleep that’s actually conducive to our well-being. Whether it’s by learning to perfect our sleep hygiene practices or simply working out the best sleep set up for optimal comfort, learning how to keep your risk factors in check and ensuring you’re prioritizing comfort can go a long way in improving the quality of your rest.

Taking care of your sleep hygiene and making sure you’re getting at least seven to eight hours each night can make a hugely significant impact on the quality of your rest. By now, you’ll probably be able to answer the question what is sleep apnea with some confidence, and awareness of the various possible disorders that can disrupt your sleep brings you one step closer to learning how to resolve it properly.



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Disclaimer. We love sleep and we want you to get the best sleep possible. But we do not provide medical advice. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical info, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our blog.

Certified Sleep Science Coach

Written by Teresa Francis, Certified Sleep Science Coach

Teresa Francis is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and full-time writer focused on well-being and sleep health. She’s written on a variety of topics, from what’s trending in bedroom decor to the way lifestyle influences sleep. Some of the subject areas she covers for Puffy include the best foods for better sleep, how new parents can catch up on rest, and the best way to become a morning person. Teresa has a Master’s Degree in Literature, and has always believed in the power of a good bedtime story.


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