By Denise DeWitt / EmpowHer Writer
When we sleep, we assume our breathing will continue at a normal rate. But for people with sleep apnea, breathing while sleeping may come in stops and starts that disrupt sleep and may put you at risk for more serious medical conditions.
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that can cause you to stop and start breathing at irregular intervals. These pauses may happen between 5 and 30 times an hour. After a pause, normal breathing typically starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.
There are three basic types of sleep apnea:
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common. When we sleep, the muscles at the back of the throat and in the airway are able to relax. In obstructive sleep apnea, these muscles relax too much, allowing the airway to collapse or the tissue at the back of the throat to drop down and block the airway. This can limit or completely cut off the flow of air to and from the lungs. People with this type of sleep apnea often snore loudly as air passes through the restricted airway.
Central sleep apnea is a less common type of sleep apnea. In this case, the brain stops sending the correct signals to the muscles that control breathing. Less than 5 percent of all sleep apneas fall into this category. Central sleep apnea is most often associated with heart disease.
Complex or mixed sleep apnea includes an obstruction in the upper airway that limits air flow along with problems with the rhythm of breathing and occasional lapses in breathing.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Most people who have sleep apnea are not aware that they stop breathing during sleep. Often times, a family member will notice symptoms of sleep apnea before you do.
The symptoms are similar for all types of sleep apnea:
• Snoring – Loud and on-going snoring is one of the most common signs of obstructive sleep apnea. Sleepers may also making choking or gasping sounds as breathing resumes after a pause. However, not everyone who has sleep apnea snores, and just because someone snores does not necessarily mean he or she has sleep apnea.
• Sleepiness – Fighting fatigue during the day, or rapidly falling asleep during quiet moments or while driving may be signs that your sleep at night is being disrupted by sleep apnea. You may also notice that you don’t feel rested when you wake up in the morning.
• Not breathing – Family members may notice that you stop breathing while you are sleeping, sometimes for more than 10 seconds at a time.
• Dry mouth – You may wake up with a dry mouth or sore throat.
• Morning headache
• Insomnia – You may find it difficult to stay asleep at night.
• Difficulty concentrating – This may include learning problems or problems with memory.
• Mood swings – Feeling irritable, depressed, or having personality changes in combination with other symptoms may be a sign of sleep apnea.
Tell your doctor if you have these symptoms, or if your family members comment on your snoring or pauses in breathing while you sleep.