Sleep Apnea – Pausing The Breathe In Sleep

By on November 22, 2011

Sleep ApneaSleep apnea is one of the most dangerous and progressive among all sleep disorders. This can be even life-threatening sometimes. If you are tired all the time, not feeling refreshing even after having going to bed early and experiencing frequent choking during sleep, then it is could be sleep apnea.

In sleep apnea, the patient’s body stops breathing for very short span of time during sleep. This pausing of breathing can vary from few seconds to minutes. Sufferer can even experience abnormally lower rates of breathing during sleep. This pausing can occur somewhat from 5 to 30 times within a period 1 hour.

Sleep apnea sufferer has to wake up again for breathing back normally. Frequent pauses causes the sufferer to wake many times during sleep, to breathe properly again resulting in loss of sleep. As a result, suffer does not feel refreshed even after going to bed early in night.

But, this pausing and awakening in sleep apnea happens without the notice of the sufferer. It is only the sleeping partner the sufferer witnesses these frequent pauses and awakening. This sleep disorder can be diagnosed with polysomnogram, which is an overnight sleep test, and commonly known as sleep study.

Types of Sleep Apnea

The types of sleep apnea include

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea
  • Central Sleep Apnea
  • Mixed Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea:

Obstructive sleep apnea, in short OSA is the most common type of apnea experienced. OSA sufferer will experience the pauses due to obstruction in upper airway passage. This is occurred due to relaxation of soft palates around the tongue base and uvula.

During this firstly, the upper airway passage collapses, as a result the next effort for breathing fails. This results in dropping of blood oxygen levels. This makes the brain to send signal for waking up and regain the normal breathing.

Obstructive sleep apnea can become life-threatening, and can even turn into fatal in some cases, if left untreated. This OSA can result in many other dangerous illnesses like high blood pressure, obesity, heart disorders, heart attack, etc.

Central Sleep Apnea:

In central sleep apnea (CSA), breathing pauses are not caused by any obstruction, but it is caused by brain’s failure to send signals to the chest muscles to breathe properly. This failure of sending signal is caused due to malfunctioning of neurological control for respiration.

In OSA, effort to breathe during pause is present, which is even though a failure. But in case of central sleep apnea, the effort for sleep diminishes for about 10 to 30 seconds. This makes the sufferer to lose one or more breathing cycles. People with central nervous dysfunction are more prone to this type of apnea.

Mixed Sleep Apnea:

Mixed sleep apnea is also called as Complex sleep apnea. Sometimes, OSA sufferers also experience CSA; then such disorder is known as mixed sleep apnea. It is very difficult to treat this type of apnea. People with body masses large tongue, certain jaw shapes, certain airway passages, larger tonsils, are more prone to this type of apnea.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The signs and symptoms include:

  • Frequent choking and gasping during sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Experience fatigue and headache upon awakening
  • Feeling un-refreshing after sleep
  • Loud snoring
  • Rapid gain of weight
  • Memory impairment
  • Depression
  • Night sweats
  • Morning dry mouth and sore throat after awakening
  • Unable to concentrate properly


Sleep apnea diagnosis is done with help of polysomnogram. This sleep test is a complete overnight sleep study, which records the brain’s electrical activity, oxygen levels in blood, air flow, activity of muscles, effort for respiration, eye movement, and heart activity. This helps in knowing the severity of the sleep apnea.

Sometimes, Apart from this sleep test, multiple sleep latency test is also done after polysomnogram for measuring how fast the person goes into sleep. Nowadays, as a alternative to polysomnogram, portable home sleep apnea kits are available in market.

Sleep Apnea Treatment Methods

Based on the severity of disorder, sufferer is suggested with various sleep apnea treatment techniques.

Behavioral Therapy:

    Most often, sleep apnea treatment starts with behavioral therapy. This includes simple lifestyle changes such as

  • Sleeping sideways: This will prevent in soft palates of tongue falling and thereby stopping from obstructing the airway passage. Tennis-ball trick can be helpful in maintain sideway sleep.
  • Avoiding alcohol, cigarettes and sleeping pills: By avoiding these things, the relaxing of throat muscles can be prevented.
  • Weight loss: Losing weight is very helpful in reducing the sleep apnea symptoms to a great extent.

Sleep Apnea Therapy Devices:

Various sleep apnea therapy devices include:

  • Positive Airway Pressure: This device helps in supply of air through the upper airway. This device contains a facial mask, which is worn by the patient. Through this mask pressurized air is supplied through upper airway. This in turn prevents the upper airway muscles from being relaxed. There are three types of positive airway pressure devices available, which include Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BPAP), and Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP).
  • Oral Devices: These devices are custom made by dentists, which advances the lower jaw such that there is continuous airflow through upper airway.

Surgical Treatments:

Sometimes, the sleep apnea sufferers are suggested for surgical method for treatment. The surgical treatment methods include:

  • Maxillomandibular advancement: This surgery has shown very effective treatment technique. In this surgery is done to correct the facial deformities that causing sleep apnea.
  • Uvulopalatophrayngoplasty: In this surgery, the soft tissue is on the back of the throat and palate is removed. This in turn increases the upper airway supple area.
  • Somnoplasty: In this the soft tissues in the upper airway that are causing sleep apnea are shrunk with the help of radio frequency energy.
  • Tracheostomy: In this surgical sleep apnea treatment technique, a bypass is created to the airway by making an incision to neck and creating a direct airway through it.

If the symptoms of sleep apnea are experienced, they should not be ignored as this disorder can result in many other serious health disorders. So, it is very important to consult a doctor, as soon as the symptoms are experienced.

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