You know the feeling you get when you see an attractive person? It feels like your heart stops beating for a few seconds and you can’t seem to breathe, let alone find a way to put together a sentence and speak to that person.
Now think about this: what if the same thing happened to you in your sleep? You probably wouldn’t believe that it could happen. However, it can, and it happens to millions of people each night. It’s called sleep apnea.
What is sleep apnea? Well, sleep apnea is a serious sleeping disorder that often causes you to stop breathing for several seconds. When you stop breathing, it causes a sharp drop in oxygen in your blood and interrupts your sleep. Sleep apnea can signal a more serious health problem that can be dangerous if not treated.
So now that you know the answer to ‘what is sleep apnea’, how do you know if you suffer from it? Well, if you wake up in the middle of the night with a strong urge to go to the bathroom, you may have it. Or, if you snore, feel tired all day or wake up gasping for air, you may suffer from sleep apnea as well.
If you think you suffer from sleep apnea, visit your doctor as soon as possible. He will be able to answer your questions, like “what is sleep apnea” and then actually diagnose it by administering a sleep study commonly known as polysomnography and a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure.)
Your doctor will also be able to determine what form of sleep apnea you have: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA.) Obstructive sleep apnea is cause by the obstruction of the air path, usually by swelling, an enlarged uvula or fat (common in obese people.) The obstructions reduce the amount of oxygen that can go into the lungs, thus causing the person to gasp for air because there isn’t enough going in. Obstructive sleep apnea needs to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible because it can cause other health problems like hypertension.
Central sleep apnea happens when the brain doesn’t send the appropriate signals to the respiratory muscles. When the signals aren’t there, the muscles don’t know to breathe and breathing will stop for an extended period of time-usually ten to twenty seconds. Central sleep apnea is prevalent in people who had cardiovascular problems as infants or have congenital heart defects. To treat central sleep apnea, the underlying cause (heart problems) must be treated too.
When someone tells you that they have problems sleeping, ask them if they have sleep apnea. If they ask you, “what is sleep apnea,” you can educate them and help them seek treatment. Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can cause more health problems in life. See a doctor right away if you think you may have sleep apnea. Seeking treatment early is the key to fixing the problem, getting a better night’s sleep and preventing major health problems down the line.