Jenna Hollenstein, MS, RD
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder with pauses in breathing while you are asleep. The stoppage can last for 10-30 seconds at a time, up to 20-30 times per hour. During one night, breathing may stop up to 400 times.
There are 3 types of sleep apnea:
With all types of sleep apnea, the brain will sense the pause in breathing and wake you up. Waking up restores normal breathing but breaks the sleep cycle. Poor sleep can make you tired during the day and over time lead to other serious medical conditions like high blood pressure or depression.
Major causes depend on the type of sleep apnea:
Sleep apnea is more common in men, and in adults over 40 years old.
Factors that may increase your chance of sleep apnea include:
Your partner may notice loud snoring or that you breathing stops at night. You may notice repeated waking at night.
Regular sleep apnea can lead to:
Untreated sleep apnea has been linked to other health problems, such as:
Sleep apnea also increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents, most likely due to lack of sleep. If you have daytime sleepiness avoiding driving or operating potentially hazardous equipment.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. If the doctor thinks it may be sleep apnea you will be sent for an overnight sleep study in a clinic.
Polysomnography is test that will help find sleep disorders. It can help show the severity of the apnea as well. During sleep, the test will measure your:
To look for any changes caused by sleep apnea, your doctor may also do the following tests:
Treating sleep apnea will decrease symptoms and reduce risk factors for other health conditions. More mild forms may be managed with some lifestyle changes. More severe forms may need long term treatment. The exact treatment will depend on the type of sleep apnea and its severity.
Mild obstructive apnea may be relieved with some of the following:
Oral appliances are small devices that keep the lower jaw in a forward position. This helps pull the tongue away from the airway. It may be helpful for those with mild sleep apnea. The devices can also be used for those with severe obstructive sleep apnea who cannot use CPAP therapy.
Continuous positive airway pressure
is a machine that gently blows air into your airway to help keep it open. The air is delivered through a mask that you wear while sleeping. CPAP will help you manage sleep apnea but it does not cure it. If you stop using CPAP, sleep apnea will return immediately.
Oxygen may also be added at night with CPAP. It may be recommended if the level of oxygen in the blood falls too low during sleep, even with CPAP alone.
Surgery may be helpful for some.
Surgery to shrink tissue or remove extra tissue may help relieve obstructive sleep apnea. Options include:
Certain medications may be used to reduce daytime symptoms of sleep apnea. Other medications may need to be adjusted or stopped if they are making sleep apnea worse.
You may be able to prevent sleep apnea by maintaining a
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National Sleep Foundation
Canadian Sleep Society
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Last reviewed March 2016 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
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