Sleep apnea is a chronic condition characterized by pauses in breathing that occur repeatedly throughout the night. They may last anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes and occur in conjunction with loud snoring. People with sleep apnea often feel tired during the day since their quality of sleep is poor.
Oftentimes, a person suffering from sleep apnea will be oblivious to the fact that they have a sleep disorder. They rarely awaken during interruptions in breathing and may only become aware of the fact that there’s a problem when a partner alerts them.
The most common form of the disorder, obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when the soft tissues in the back of the throat relax and obstruct the airway, interfering with breathing and causing the noisy vibrations associated with snoring. The result is daytime drowsiness, fatigue and symptoms that include a sore throat, dry mouth and headache. Snoring may disturb the sleep of your partner, resulting in tension and stress. Your productivity at work may suffer, and you might experience periods of confusion and memory loss.
Causes of sleep apnea include overly relaxed throat tissues and tongue; a large tongue, tonsils, uvula or soft palate; and an abnormally small airway. Natural aging can limit your brain’s ability to keep your throat muscles stiff while you sleep, causing the airway to narrow or collapse. Those most at risk are male, over the age of 40, overweight, smoke tobacco, suffer from allergies or sinus infections and/or have a family history of sleep apnea.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the preferred treatment method for those with moderate to severe sleep apnea. You’ll wear a mask over your mouth or nose attached to a machine that delivers steady bursts of air pressure into your throat, keeping your airway passages open while you sleep.