Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
What is sleep
People with sleep apnea stop breathing for 10 to
30 seconds at a time while they are sleeping. These short stops in breathing can
happen up to 400 times every night! If you have sleep apnea, the periods of not
breathing may make you wake up from deep sleep. If you are waking up all night
long, you aren't getting enough rest from your sleep.
There are two kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive
apnea and central apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type. Nine
out of 10 people with sleep apnea have this type of apnea. If you have this
type, something is blocking the passage or windpipe (called the trachea) that
brings air into your body. You keep trying to breathe, but you can't get enough
air because of the blockage. Your windpipe might be blocked by your tongue,
tonsils or uvula (the little piece of flesh that hangs down in the back of your
throat). It might also be blocked by a large amount of fatty tissue in the
throat or even by relaxed throat muscles.
Central sleep apnea is rare. This type is called
central apnea because it is related to the function of the central nervous
system. If you have this type of apnea, the muscles you use to breathe don't get
the "go-ahead" signal from your brain. Either the brain doesn't send the signal,
or the signal gets interrupted.
How do I know if I have sleep
Your doctor can diagnose sleep apnea. The person
you sleep with may notice it first. You, or that person, may notice heavy
snoring or long pauses in your breathing during sleep. Even if you don't
remember waking up during the night, you may notice daytime sleepiness (such as
falling asleep at work, while driving or when talking), and irritability or
fatigue. You may also notice that you have morning headaches, forgetfulness,
mood changes and a decreased interest in sex.
If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, your doctor
may ask you to go to a sleep center for a sleep study. Tests done at the sleep
center may reveal which kind of sleep apnea you have. You may need to take some
equipment with you to do a sleep study at home.
Is sleep apnea
At first, sleep apnea isn't harmful. However, it
can cause serious problems if it isn't treated. Your risk of heart disease and
stroke is higher if serious sleep apnea goes untreated. You are also more likely
to have traffic accidents if you drive while you're sleepy. If you have sleep
apnea, it is very important for you to get treatment.
Is there anything I can do to help
my sleep apnea?
Yes. These steps help many people with sleep
apnea to sleep better:
- Stop all use of alcohol or sleep medicines. These
relax the muscles in the back of your throat, making it harder for you to
- If you are overweight, lose weight.
- Sleep on your side instead of on your back.
If you still have problems, you
can wear a special mask over your nose and mouth while you are sleeping. The
mask will keep your airway open by adding pressure to the air you breathe. The
mask helps most people with sleep apnea. In a very few cases, surgery is
necessary to remove tonsils or extra tissue from the throat.
Is sleep apnea
Doctors estimate that about 12 million Americans
have sleep apnea. If you are interested in meeting other people with sleep
apnea, you can contact the American Sleep Apnea Association, Web site: www.sleepapnea.org)
to find the location of a support group near you.
Will this problem change my
Actually, sleep apnea may already have affected
you more than you know. Chances are things will improve for you once the
diagnosis is made. If your sleep problem can be solved by not using alcohol or
sleep medicine, losing weight if you're overweight and sleeping on your side,
you will quickly begin to feel much more rested and energetic. If you must wear
the mask while sleeping, you should soon feel the benefits. If you need surgery,
you'll be able to sleep better afterwards. Whatever your treatment, remember
that you are not alone and help is available.