Sleep apnea (AP-nee-a) is a disorder in which a person temporarily stops breathing while sleeping.
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Obstructive sleep apnea
Will He Snooze or Snore?
James loved his grandfather, but he was dreading this year's visit. When James shared his room with Grandpa last year, he did not sleep all week. Sometimes the snoring would stop, but then James had to hop out of bed to make sure his grandfather was breathing. Each time, Grandpa started breathing again after about 10 seconds, but he would choke and gasp for air before starting to snore again. In the morning, he had no memory of the night's noisy events.
When Grandpa arrived, the first thing he told James was that he would be a better roommate this year. His snoring had been caused by sleep apnea, and his doctor had given him a device to wear in his nose at night to make it easier for him to breathe.
* oxygen (OK-si-jen) is an odorless, colorless gas essential for the human body. It is taken in through the lungs and delivered to the body by the bloodstream.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
While sleeping, a person with sleep apnea stops breathing briefly, usually for about 10 seconds at a time. This can happen hundreds of times a night. The result is that the body does not get enough oxygen * or a restful night's sleep. People with sleep apnea often are very tired during the day, have trouble concentrating, and may feel anxious and have difficulty falling asleep at night. Sometimes, they wake up in a panic, because they think they are choking, and many wake up with headaches and are depressed and moody.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when something in the throat, such as the tongue or tonsils * , blocks the airway. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain temporarily "forgets" to tell the body to breathe. Mixed apnea is a combination of OSA and central apnea.
People of all ages have sleep apnea, but it is most common in older people. OSA occurs most often in men over 50, and many people with OSA are overweight. People with sleep apnea often do not know that they have it. Family members, however, are well aware of the problem, because the most common symptom is loud snoring.
Living with Sleep Apnea
In some people, sleep apnea is just an annoying problem; in others, it can lead to heart problems and stroke * . To determine if someone has sleep apnea, doctors monitor the person while he or she sleeps. Sometimes, this is done at sleep clinics, which are special places where researchers measure people's brain waves, heart rate, eye movement, body muscle tone, breathing, snoring, and blood oxygen levels while they sleep.
People with sleep apnea should not drink alcohol or take sleeping pills before bed, and they should try to lose weight if they are too heavy. For many people, sleeping on their sides eliminates, or at least lessens, snoring. Various prescription drugs relieve apnea in some people. Special devices worn in the nose or mouth can keep the airways clear as well. In some cases, surgery to remove tissues that block the airway (such as tonsils and adenoids) can be performed.
One of the symptoms of sleep apnea is snoring. But snoring can have other causes, including drinking alcohol, taking sedative medication, chronic nasal congestion, or obstruction caused by enlarged adenoids (AD-e-noidz) and tonsils.
The most common cause of snoring is not known—some people just snore. Snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea only if the snoring is punctuated by extended quiet periods before snoring resumes.
* tonsils (TON-silz) are paired clusters of lymphoid tissues in the throat.
* stroke is a blocked or ruptured blood vessel within the brain, which deprives some brain cells of oxygen and thereby kills or damage s these cells. Also called apoplexy (AP-o-plek-see).