Sleep apnea can interfere with many areas of your life. Besides keeping your partner awake all night with your snoring, sleep apnea sufferers may experience constant fatigue during the day and even unexplained weight gain.
There are two types of sleep apnea – obstructive and central. Central sleep apnea (CSA) is caused by a failure in the body’s feedback mechanisms that control respiration. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused when the airway is partially or completely obstructed, typically by the tongue or the soft tissues of the throat. During sleep, muscles all over the body go into a state of deep relaxation. In the soft issues of the throat, this relaxation can be so deep that the airway temporarily collapses. The tongue also may move backwards, blocking the airway. Obstructive sleep apnea is far more common than central sleep apnea, although occasionally they will present together.
Untreated sleep apnea can damage overall health in a number of ways. It causes a drop in blood oxygen levels during the night, which disrupts the natural REM cycle of the sleeping brain. Sufferers of sleep apnea will feel the groggy, sluggish, and lack focus. It is even speculated that some childhood ADHD diagnoses are actually misdiagnosed sleep apnea. It can exacerbate cardiovascular disease, leading to heart attack or stroke. It can contribute to high blood pressure and cholesterol, depression, and even car accidents due to drowsiness. What’s more, it can do all this without the sufferer even being aware of the condition, as they typically will not wake during the apneas.
For severe cases of sleep apnea, the most common treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. In mild to moderate cases, an oral appliance may be enough to provide relief. There are also several surgical options available, most of which involve creating more space in the airway to keep it from closing.