Affecting over 12 million Americans, sleep apnea is a debilitating health condition. Due to a lack of public awareness and the fact that apnea events occur during sleep, millions suffer from it without even knowing. It can severely disturb a person's life and due to a lack of public awareness millions suffer from it without even knowing. Sleep apnea occurs during sleep so many have no idea that they are literally waking up hundreds of times throughout the night. The inability to completely fall asleep for any substantial amount of time due to constant sleep disturbances can lead to weight gain, cognitive problems, impotency, headaches and a lack of productivity at work.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three major types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep. The second, central sleep apnea is when the brain fails to send signals to the muscles to breathe during sleep. The third is mixed apnea in which both obstructive and central sleep apnea are present. Regardless of the cause, with each apnea event in which the sleeper stops breathing, the brain arouses them to wake up just enough to catch their breath. This can happen hundreds of times a night without the person having any idea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is most often caused by being overweight. The extra soft fat tissue thickens the wall of the windpipe causing the inside opening to narrow, making it harder to keep open. Obstructive sleep apnea can also occur in people whose throat muscles and tongue relax more than normal and people with large tonsils. Central sleep apnea, which occurs when the brain fails to send signals to breathe during sleep, is most commonly caused by heart disease, and less commonly, stroke.
Sleep apnea and weight gain are a vicious cycle. Being overweight is a major cause of sleep apnea and sleep apnea can lead to further weight gain. Being sleep deprived leads to a hormonal imbalance in the body that triggers overeating. Plus, being sleep deprived can make people feel listless throughout the day, preventing them from getting exercise which leads to weight gain as well.
For some people, sleep apnea can be treated by a few behavioral modifications like losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills or changing sleeping positions. Another popular treatment is the CPAP or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine. This treatment involves wearing a mask that's hooked up to a machine that delivers continuous air flow to the nostrils. In more severe cases a doctor may recommend nasal surgery or removal of soft tissue in the uvula.