A sleeping disorder, Sleep Apnea is characterized by periods of shallow breathing or in some cases, a complete pause in breathing. This pause can last a few seconds or several minutes and disrupts the person’s sleep cycle several times during the night. This is why an adult or a child suffering from sleep apnea could be tired during the day, making it difficult for him/her to function. In children it can also result in hyperactivity.
Forms of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA
This is characterized by an obstruction in a person’s airway which causes difficulty in breathing. When a person is asleep, their muscle tone generally relaxes. For those with sleep apnea, the soft tissue collapsible walls of the airway in the throat, relax to the extent of affecting one’s breathing. Even those with narrowed airways are at risk of OSA.
Central Sleep Apnea or CSA
In this form of Sleep Apnea, an imbalance in the respiratory control centre in the brain is at fault. In general, a neurological feedback mechanism monitors the level of carbon dioxide in the blood. Even a small dip in the oxygen level will trigger an immediate response in this part of the brain. However, for those with CSA, this system does not react fast enough to keep up a smooth respiratory rate.
This is why the person may skip a few breathing cycles and when breathing stops, the sleeper makes no sign that says they are struggling to breathe. When breathing resumes, it might be faster to compensate for the previous stage and absorb more oxygen. This is a less common form of sleep apnea.
Complex Sleep Apnea is a third form of this sleep disorder and is a combination of the above two.
What are the Risk Factors?
Sleep Apnea can occur in any age group and gender but it is more common among the elderly and twice as likely to occur for men than women. Those who smoke, are overweight, have diabetes or even borderline diabetes are at high risk of developing sleep apnea. Those with a family history of sleep apnea should watch out for symptoms of the same. Any conditions that could affect the airway or normal breathing cycles like enlarged adenoids or tonsils, a deviated septum and allergies or other conditions that result nasal congestion.
Central Sleep Apnea is also more common in those who are overweight, male and above the age of 65. But this form is more often associated with a serious illness such as a neurological condition, spinal injury, stroke or heart disease.
What can be done?
While Sleep Apnea can cause a disruption in a person’s routine and daily life, it is a treatable condition. Often doctors recommend lifestyle changes and exercising regularly to lose weight and stay fit go a long way in alleviating symptoms. Avoiding the use of any sedatives, alcohol or anything that could relax the muscles of the throat and cause breathing difficulty is also recommended (especially toward the evening and night). Quitting smoking is also beneficial in more ways than one. It is said that maintaining a routine and going to bed at the same time every day is advantageous as are avoiding heavy meals or caffeine at least two hours before bed. While there are several self-help techniques that you can use, it does not replace the benefits of sound medical advice from a trained practitioner.
Companies like SleepTech provide a range of solutions from accessible testing to therapy. By providing comprehensive care, their aim is to empower their patients to take charge of their sleep and health once again.