“My bed partner tells me I snore and sometimes stop breathing while I am asleep… Should I be concerned?”
These events, called apneas or hypopneas (partial or complete obstructions that result in reduced airflow to the lungs) become an issue when they happen often during sleep and over many sleeping periods during the week.
This happens when sleep interrupted by brief awakenings or arousals that take place as the body restarts breathing after these pauses occur. Such pauses in breathing, to be medically significant, must last 10 seconds or longer and occur, on average, more than 5 times per hour of time asleep.
The arousals that follow do not necessarily result in waking up, but often move the sleeper to a lighter stage of sleep. These pauses and consequent arousals disrupt the normal sleep cycle, leading to fragmented sleep. This prevents the sleeper from benefiting from deeper stages of sleep, when the body is most relaxed and key restorative processes can take place, including during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) or dream sleep. People experiencing fragmented sleep complain of waking up not feeling refreshed from their sleep.
The frequent pauses in breathing that cause partial or complete obstruction of air entering the lungs (hypopneas and apnea) result in less oxygen in the bloodstream and, in turn, to organs like the heart, kidneys and brain. The result is hypoxia, the medical term for no oxygen in the blood. This can be serious if it occurs frequently or chronically. The body, starved of oxygen, will take measures to keep breathing, including arousing as mentioned above. The result to a human body subjected to this oxygen starvation for long enough is death.
The symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the medical condition that results from experiencing many apneas and hypopneas during the course of the night, can vary. Among them are excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, increased irritability, depression, high blood pressure, weight gain and erectile dysfunction. The list continues to grow as more research is done.
Simply put, everybody is at risk for OSA–both old and young, male and female, obese and normal weight, adults and children. It is a fallacy to think that OSA only affects overweight middle-aged males.
It doesn’t take much for the opening to the upper airway to be blocked either partially or completely. A large tongue, a narrow or crowded opening to the upper airway due to fatty tissue, a long uvula… all these can contribute to having OSA.
On the basis of that information, the severity of your condition is determined by way of a measurement called the Apnea Hypopnea Index (AHI). The basic index formula is:
hours asleep or in bed
On the basis of these results, the treating physician will make some recommendations on how to improve your sleep by reducing or eliminating these apneas and hypopneas.
- Avoid sleeping on your back. When you sleep on your back, you increase the likelihood that your mouth will come open and your tongue will slide back to block the opening to your upper airway.
- Breath through your nose. Make certain not to experience nasal congestion when going to sleep. This will reduce the chances of mouth breathing.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Check out these 12 simple tips to improve sleep
© Edward Grandi 2014, All Rights Reserved