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Obstructive Sleep Apnea – A Closer Look

Nearly twelve million Americans suffer each year from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the sleep disorder that affects more people than any other. Obesity or being overweight seems to be a common predictor of this problem and the associated snoring. Because of the snoring, in fact, it may be that your bed partner suffers even more from your sleep apnea than you do. Sleep apnea directly affects more men than women (but, of course, the indirect affect of a snoring bed partner affects more women than men). People who have a larger neck measurement — often indicative of obesity — are also more likely to experience obstructive sleep apnea.

What happens when you have obstructive sleep apnea? You stop breathing. Now, it’s true that some folks really wish that their bed partners would stop breathing permanently and for good (good?). But with this sleep disorder, you do resume breathing properly before any brain damage occurs — typically in a few seconds, but breath-stoppage can sometimes last up to a minute. The problem grows greater with the greater length of time you’re not breathing. The following list is not all-inclusive, but you are more likely to experience sleep apnea of any of the following describe your situation:

* You have a long history of snoring a lot.

* You drink liquor.

* You’re overweight (be honest with yourself here).

* You have a physical abnormality of the soft palate or jaw.

And, as noted above, there are those who suffer OSA without belonging to any of these classes.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when muscles in your airway relax too much while you’re sleeping. When those muscles relax too much, you can’t get sufficient air into your lungs; eventually your brain notices a buildup of carbon dioxide and “orders” your airway muscles to get back to work so you can breathe again. You resume breathing, but this constant breathe-don’t-breathe-breathe-again interrupts the deep sleep cycles that you need to experience every night.

Repeating episodes of apnea (from a Greek word meaning “without breath”) during sleep is what sleep apnea is all about. It affects about 2 percent of women and 4 percent of men (12,000,000 Americans — more than the population of the entire State of Ohio). A formal diagnosis of sleep apnea indicates that you have ten or more apneic events during the course of an hour. An apneic event, for purposes of diagnosis by sleep researchers, is a complete interruption of airflow for at least ten seconds, or at least a 30% interruption of airflow which is accompanied by a reduction in oxygen saturation or sleep interruption.

Sleep researchers “grade” your level of sleep apnea based upon how many times you experience them. This apnea-hypoapnea index (AHI) would grade you as normal if you have zero to five episodes per hour. If you experience five to 15 apneic episodes in an hour, you’ve got mild sleep apnea. You count as moderate if you have between 15 and 30 per hour, and in a serious condition if your breathing is interrupted more than 30 times an hour while you sleep.

You and your friends, family, and bed partner may notice one or more of the following symptoms of sleep apnea:

* Anxiety.

* Changes in behavior and/or mood.

* Depression.

* Drifting off to sleep during a busy work day. sleep health

* Extreme tiredness during the day.

* Forgetfulness.

* Increased heart rate.

* Increased need to urinate or episodes of bed-wetting.

* Irritability.

* Lack of concentration.

* Morning headaches.

* Weight gain.

If these symptoms occur frequently and persist for more than a week or two, you should make an appointment to discuss the problem with your doctor. Sleep apnea can be a serious illness and needs to be addressed rather than simply ignored in the hope that “it’ll cure itself Real Soon Now.”

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