Discover the science behind sleep apnea in the article in The Science Times, including its classification, risk factors, and the ways it disrupts daily life.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where breathing stops and starts continually during sleep. There are three main types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This is the most common type, where the muscles in the throat relax excessively, causing airway blockage.
Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): In this type, the brain fails to send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. It’s less common than OSA.
- Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome (also known as Mixed Sleep Apnea ): A combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea. It typically starts as OSA and evolves into CSA using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.
Sleep apnea has severity levels that are categorized based on the frequency of breathing disruptions. Also known as the Apnea-Hypopnea Index (AHI):
- Mild: AHI score of 5 to 15 events per hour. It means there are 5 to 15 instances of complete breathing-stopping (apneas) or significant reductions in airflow (hypopneas) per hour of sleep.
- Moderate: AHI score of 15 to 30 events per hour. It indicates a higher frequency of apneas and hypopneas during sleep.
- Severe: AHI score of more than 30 events per hour. It means there are frequent and severe disruptions in breathing during sleep. It’s important to note that the AHI score is just one aspect considered when diagnosing and assessing sleep apnea.
Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing sleep apnea. Some of these include:
Excess Weight: Being obese can be a serious risk, as excess body fat accumulates along the upper airway and inhibits breathing during sleep.
Neck Circumference: People with thicker necks could have narrower airways and an increased risk of airway obstruction.
Sleep Apnea: Middle-Aged and Older Adults Are Most Prone to Affect Sleep Apnea
Gender: Men are more prone than women to developing sleep apnea; however, their risk increases if they are overweight and increases after menopause.
Family History: If there is a history of sleep apnea or another sleeping disorder in your family, that increases the risks.
Smoking and Alcohol Consumption: Both smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can increase throat muscle relaxation, leading to airway obstruction.
Nasal Congestion: If your nose becomes restricted due to allergies, sinusitis or anatomical factors, sleep apnea risk increases significantly.
Medical Conditions: High blood pressure, heart disorders, type 2 diabetes and hormonal issues all increase your risk for sleep apnea.
Ethnicity: Certain ethnic groups such as African Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders tend to experience higher prevalence rates of sleep apnea than others.
Use of Sedatives: Sedatives, tranquillizers and sleeping pills may relax throat muscles and increase risk of airway obstruction.
Gender: Men are more prone to sleep apnea than women; however, its risk increases for overweight female patients as well as becoming more prevalent after menopause.
Studies suggest the risk for sleep apnea increases with age, according to research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, where it has been estimated 22% of adult populations between ages 18-90 are estimated as suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea alone; according to estimates by American Medical Association it’s believed over 30 Million (or about 9 % of the population) Americans currently live with some form of Sleep Apnea; most likely from Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Sleep apnea can have various significant impacts on both your physical health and overall well-being:
Daytime Fatigue: The repeated disruptions in sleep caused by sleep apnea can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, which in turn can affect your ability to concentrate, work, drive safely, and perform daily tasks.
Cardiovascular Health: Sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias). The interruptions in breathing can strain the cardiovascular system.
Metabolic Health: Sleep apnea has been linked to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Poor sleep quality and disruptions in sleep patterns can affect glucose metabolism.
Weight Gain: Sleep apnea and weight gain often have a bidirectional relationship. Excess weight can contribute to sleep apnea, and sleep apnea can lead to weight gain due to disruptions in metabolism and hormonal changes.
Sleep Apnea May Cause or Exacerbate Mood Disorders: Sleep apnea has the ability to exacerbate depression and anxiety symptoms by disrupting regular sleeping patterns and decreasing oxygen supply during restful slumber, possibly altering how people regulate emotions during REM sleep. Sleep Apnea Impacts Brain Performance and Development: When combined, both factors increase risk.
Sleep Apnea can impair cognitive functions like memory, concentration and decision-making by disrupted sleep quality, leaving individuals susceptible to diminished mental faculties due to inadequate restful slumber.
Decreased Quality of Life: Chronic fatigue caused by sleep apnea may reduce overall quality of life resulting in diminished overall wellbeing and health issues that compromise it further.
Relationship Strain: Snoring and frequent awakenings due to sleep apnea can significantly disrupt the sleep of both individuals, creating relationship strain and fatigue for all parties involved.
Increased Risk of Accidents: Daytime sleepiness caused by sleep apnea can increase the chances of accidents while driving, operating machinery or performing other tasks that require focus and concentration. This poses a particular threat when operating heavy equipment or performing other activities which require our full attention, such as operating heavy machinery.
Worsening of Other Medical Conditions: Sleep apnea can aggravate existing medical conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and chronic pain, leading to worsening of symptoms associated with each.
Surgery and Anesthesia Complications: If you require sleep apnea surgery, complications associated with its administration and interrupted breathing during surgery could increase your risks of complications significantly.
Treatment options for sleep apnea depend on its severity and specific type. Here are a few possible treatments:
- Lifestyle Changes:
- Weight Loss: If you’re overweight, losing weight can often help reduce the severity of sleep apnea.
Positional Therapy: Some people experience more pronounced apnea when sleeping on their backs. Sleeping on your side might alleviate the symptoms.
2. Medical intervention:
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): This is one of the most effective treatments for obstructive sleep apnea. A CPAP machine delivers a constant stream of air through a mask to keep your airway open during sleep.
- Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP): Similar to CPAP, a BiPAP machine delivers varying levels of pressure when you breathe in and out. It’s often used for more severe cases of sleep apnea or for individuals who have difficulty tolerating CPAP.
- Oral Appliances: These are devices that can be worn in the mouth to reposition the lower jaw and tongue, helping to keep the airway open.
- Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV): This treatment is used for complex sleep apnea. ASV devices monitor your breathing patterns and adjust pressure to stabilize your breathing.
- Expiratory Positive Airway Pressure (EPAP): These are small, disposable devices that you place over your nostrils before sleeping. They create resistance during exhalation to help keep the airway open.
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP): This surgery involves removing excess tissue from the throat to widen the airway.
- Genioglossus A
The tongue muscle attachment is repositioned to prevent airway collapse.
- Maxillomandibular Advancement (MMA):
The upper and lower jaw are moved forward to enlarge the airway.