What Is Sleep Apnea and Its Treatment? Understand the Basics

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder which is characterized by abnormal pauses in the breathing pattern, or instances of abnormally low breathing during sleep. Each pause between successive breaths is called an “apnea” – a word derived from the Greek word “apnoia” which means “without breath”. In case of normal breathing, the frequency of pauses is constant and regular. When the normal breathing pattern changes due to various reasons, and the intervals between successive pauses start becoming irregular, it leads to sleep apnea disorder. Each irregular pause of breath is referred to as “hypopnea.” So, in case of normal breathing, each interval or pause is termed as an “apnea”, while in case of abnormal breathing it is termed as “hypopnea.”

Symptoms of sleep apnea

Individuals suffering from the disorder often do not know they have it. Certain symptoms can ascertain whether the individual is suffering from the disorder. The major symptoms include:


  • Insomnia
  • Restless sleeping patterns
  • Choking or gasping during sleep
  • Night sweats
  • Feeling excessively sleepy during the day
  • Snoring frequently and loudly
  • Trouble in breathing during sleep


Other symptoms indicating a possible disorder are:


  • Fatigue
  • Morning headaches
  • Loss of memory
  • Difficulty in learning new things
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate for long
  • Depressions
  • Mood swings and/or personality changes
  • Dry throat when awaking
  • Frequent urination during the night


Causes of sleep apnea

The disorder generally occurs due to a fat buildup, or a loss of the muscle tone, especially during old age. In this particular disorder, the tracheal muscles (“trachea” is the windpipe), the soft palate muscles at the base of the tongue, and the uvula (“uvula” is the triangular shaped small fleshy tissue hanging from the center in the back of the throat) relax to a considerable extent and collapse during the breathing activity. In simple terms, the windpipe becomes taut, or the layers of the windpipe adhere which restricts the flow of air into the lungs. The disorder can also occur due to a malfunction of neurons controlling the breathing process during sleep. This sleep disorder can be diagnosed by an overnight polysomnogram test – a sleep test which is extensively used to detect sleeping disorders and related problems.

Effects of sleep apnea

Even though the sleep disorder might appear to be a common and not-so-serious, it can lead to some serious health problems. If left untreated, the disorder can result in: Sleep Apnea


  • Depression
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Hypertension
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heart beats
  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • Chronic Heart Failure
  • Worsening of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)


Types of sleep apnea

There are three types of sleep apnea:


  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
  • Central sleep apnea (CSA)
  • Mixed sleep apnea (MSA)


Even though all the three types of sleeping disorders differ as far as their causes and treatment is concerned, one aspect remain common – some parts of the respiratory system narrow down and impair the percentage of oxygen reaching the subject’s lungs.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

This is a highly common form of the disorder found in majority of the individuals suffering from sleeping disorder. Obstructive sleep apnea is a physical disorder. This form of disorder is typically characterized by individuals who have:


  • More weight (overweight)
  • Small jaw line
  • A small air passage in the trachea (windpipe)
  • Large tongue
  • Tonsils


The main cause of OSA is the same as stated above for sleep apnea. The condition can further worsen if the subject consumes alcohol, ingests tranquilizers and sleeping pills.


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