Obstructive sleep apnea is a rather common sleep disorder usually characterized by loud, chronic, ongoing snoring. There may also be pauses in the snoring followed by choking or gasping as the snorer starts breathing again. (While snoring is a common symptoms of sleep apnea, not all snorers have sleep apnea.)
Why does Sleep Apnea Happen?
The snoring associated with sleep apnea happens when a person's airway becomes narrowed or blocked. This can happen in several ways.
- the throat muscles or tongue relax more than normal at night, restricting the amount of space for air to pass through
- a person's tongue and tonsils are disproportionate to the hold of the windpipe
- if a person is overweight, extra soft fat tissues can thicken the windpipe wall, narrowing the opening or making it harder to keep the throat open
- a person's natural bone structure and head shape may mean that naturally a person has a smaller airway in the mouth and throat area
- as a person ages, the signals that keep a person's throat muscles stiff during sleep are weakened.
Many people think that "sawing logs loud enough to wake the dead" is just a normal sleep time thing. It's not. In fact, left untreated, the kind of snoring described above can result in lack of sufficient blood oxygen levels, which will trigger stress hormones, raise heart rates, increase risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, arrythmia, and increase the risk of and worsen heart failure. Untreated sleep apnea can also lead to alterations in how a person's body uses energy, which can in turn lead to increased risk of obesity and diabetes.
As we've seen in past articles, the human body is made to work together as a team. If any one of the body's systems is not working optimally or is compromised, it affects all the other systems.
Other symptoms of Sleep Apnea
It's difficult for people, particularly people who sleep alone or have no one else living in the home with them, to know whether or not they snore, let alone whether or not they stop breathing when they snore. Here are a few things to watch out for that could be indicators of sleep apnea.