Apnea (traditionally spelled apnoea – with an ‘o’) is a term that means ‘no breath’ – and so very simply, sleep apnea is a condition where you repeatedly stop breathing for short periods of time during your sleep.
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, when the cause of the apnea is due to airway obstruction. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is quite common with about one in 10 males and one in 15 females having some form of OSA. It is more likely to develop with age and there is also a hereditary predisposition to having OSA. So if one or both of your parents have OSA, you are more likely to develop it as well. Carrying extra weight, particularly around the waist and the neck, are also highly predictive of having obstructive sleep apnea.
OSA is diagnosed into three tiers – mild, moderate and severe OSA. In some cases, people with severe OSA will stop breathing 100’s of times every night, causing awakenings form sleep (called arousals) that are largely unnoticed by the sufferer, but lead to an unrefreshing, poor quality sleep. Blood oxygen levels can also decline with every apnea which puts stress on organs like the heart and the brain. This is why leaving sleep apnea untreated can eventually lead to the onset of serious health conditions like depression, coronary artery disease, hypertension and insulin resistance and diabetes. Long term, untreated sleep apnea has also been linked to higher risks of having a heart attack, stroke and even cancer.
Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Fortunately there a number of therapies available to treat sleep apnea, most of which are non-invasive and easy to implement.