Sleep apnea is a common, potentially serious sleep disorder in which your breathing slows or completely stops temporarily during sleep. As the brain recognizes a lack of oxygen, it stimulates respiration, causing a partial arousal from sleep. These breathing pauses can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, and can take place more than 30 times in a single hour of sleep.
There are three main types of sleep apnea:
Obstructive sleep apnea: The most common form of the disorder, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the tongue and the soft tissues of the throat collapse and block the airway completely.
Central sleep apnea: This form of the disorder happens when the brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control respiration. People with this type of sleep apnea typically don’t snore.
Complex sleep apnea syndrome: Also called treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, people with this condition have both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea affects roughly 18 million adults in the United States. Although the most common sign of sleep apnea is loud, chronic snoring, not everyone with sleep apnea snores. Other signs and symptoms of the condition include:
Loud, disruptive snoring isn’t the only downside of sleep apnea. In fact, the potential complications of the disorder are far more serious. Because people with sleep apnea are less likely to experience restorative sleep at night, they’re more likely to fall asleep unexpectedly during the day, increasing the risk of accidents on the road or at work. People with sleep apnea are also at a much greater risk of having high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. People with untreated sleep apnea are also more likely to develop insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and liver problems.
Most cases of sleep apnea go undiagnosed simply because the condition occurs during sleep. But because it’s a serious medical condition with the potential of major complications, it’s important for sleep apnea to be diagnosed and treated whenever possible. Dr. Stein is specially trained to screen patients for sleep apnea during routine office visits. If he diagnoses the disorder, he’ll refer you to a sleep physician for an in-depth consultation and comprehensive evaluation, which includes taking part in an overnight sleep study. Treatment depends on the type of sleep apnea you have and its severity, with options ranging from continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, oral appliances, behavioral modifications, or surgery.