What’s the big deal about a little snoring during the night? Or feeling a bit drowsy during the day? Or an occasional bout of insomnia? If your sleep problems are few and far between, probably not a major worry. But if your sleep disruptions are frequent, getting worse, or more noticeable to those around you, your problem might be sleep apnea. And that can be a big deal.
Sleep apnea occurs in three forms:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
This is the most common form of sleep apnea. It can be the result of the muscles in the back of the throat relaxing during sleep to obstruct the airway. Obstruction can also be caused by a physical condition such as a deviated septum, excess throat tissue or enlarged tonsils. Loud snoring often results as the sleeper struggles to inhale through the obstructed passageway.
- Central sleep apnea
Central sleep apnea is caused by the brain failing to transmit the proper signals to breathe during sleep. The sleeper either stops breathing, or takes such shallow breaths that he or she can’t get enough air into the lungs.
- Complex sleep apnea
This condition is a mix of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Any of these forms of sleep apnea will cause a miserable night’s sleep. Sufferers actually stop breathing for a brief time. To start breathing properly again, our bodies move from the deep sleep we need to restore our physical and mental health to shallow sleep or even momentary wakefulness. And these disruptive episodes can happen dozens of times an hour, all night long. You might think you have gotten a full night’s sleep, while in reality you are suffering from sleep deprivation.
When you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, the immediate consequences are easy to see and hear. Loud snoring, choking, constant drowsiness—you (and your loved ones) suffer from these symptoms night and day. But the hidden consequences of this disorder are even more dangerous. Sleep apnea has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes. It can cause memory problems, depression, and mood changes. Loss of focus and slow reflexes can lead to accidents. Complications from general anesthetics and medications can also become a serious risk.
Snoring is not the only symptom of sleep apnea. If you notice that you often wake up with a sore throat, a dry mouth, or a headache, have difficulty going to sleep at night or staying awake during the day, can’t concentrate, or constantly feel irritable—you should consider the possibility that you suffer from sleep apnea. Talk to Dr. Michelle Slezewski and Dr. Paul Engibous at our Anchorage, AK office. We can recommend options that will have you once again sleeping soundly in your bed, waking up refreshed and healthy. And that is a big deal.