What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing is repeatedly interrupted throughout the night. This occurs when the muscles in the throat relax and the airway narrows or collapses as they breathe in. When the person can’t get enough air, the blood oxygen level drops. The brain immediately jolts the body awake to reopen the airway. Sometimes this episode goes unnoticed and other times, it may cause the person to wake up gasping for air. In persons with sleep apnea, these apnea episodes can occur as many as 30 times per hour.
What Are The 3 Types of Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
OSA is a disorder that occurs when the airway collapses during sleep. This interrupts normal breathing patterns, preventing oxygen from traveling to the brain or the lungs. The brain then sends signals to the body to wake up, often resulting in individuals gasping for air before falling asleep again.
These apnea events can occur 30 times per hour or more in severe cases and can last as long as 10 seconds. Untreated sleep apnea has been linked to several short- and long-term health risks including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, obesity, and more.
Central Sleep Apnea
Central sleep apnea is a disorder in which regular breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep causing sleep loss. Unlike OSA, central sleep apnea begins in the brain rather than the airway.
Central sleep apnea occurs because your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing. This condition is different from obstructive sleep apnea, in which you can’t breathe normally because of upper airway obstruction. Central sleep apnea is less common than obstructive sleep apnea.
Central sleep apnea can result from other conditions, such as heart failure and stroke. Another possible cause is sleeping at a high altitude.
Mixed Sleep Apnea
Mixed sleep apnea, the third type, is a combination of central and obstructive factors occurring in the same episode of sleep apnea. Brain-related and airway-related causes combine to make diagnosing the precise type of sleep apnea difficult. Episodes of mixed sleep apnea most often begin as obstructive apneas and are treated like obstructive apneas.
Some patients being treated for obstructive sleep apnea with the use of CPAP machines develop symptoms of central sleep apnea upon PAP therapy. During CPAP treatment for the patients believed to have OSA, the patient’s airways were successfully splinted open and free from obstructions, but the patient continued to have difficulty breathing while asleep, revealing mixed sleep apnea.
What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
In several cases, obstructive sleep apnea is most prominent in men over the age of 50 with a BMI score above 35 (clinically obese). Additionally, patients with a large neck circumference (16 inches) are at risk for sleep apnea. However, it is important to understand that anyone can be susceptible to obstructive sleep apnea. Learning the signs and symptoms of OSA is the first step in reaching a diagnosis.