Updated: Apr 10, 2021
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is the involuntary and temporary cessation of breathing during sleep. This serious sleep disorder also may include momentary awakenings throughout the night, and oftentimes you may not remember these awakenings. Approximately 1 in 20 adults are diagnosed with this disorder in the U.S. alone, making sleep apnea as common as Type 2 diabetes. Sleep apnea is generally associated with obesity, while disproportionately affecting men over the age of 40. However, these factors are not definite, as this disorder can strike anyone at any age. Further symptoms of sleep apnea include fatigue and depression. One of the many dangers of sleep apnea is when it remains undiagnosed and untreated. This can lead to significant and dire consequences for an individual's health.
What Types of Sleep Apnea Exist?
The three most common types of sleep apnea are the following: Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Central Sleep Apnea, and Mixed Sleep Apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most frequently diagnosed of the three, and is caused by a blockage in the airway. This blockage is often soft tissue that falls in the back of the throat, closing the airway during sleep. This blockage in the upper airway results in difficulty breathing and forces chest muscles and the diaphragm to work even harder to draw in air while opening up the blockage. Often times, the soft tissue blockage is caused by severe weight gain, which is why obesity is considered a factor in OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea).
Central Sleep Apnea occurs when the airway is not blocked, but because the brain fails to send the correct signals to our muscles that allow us to breathe during sleep. This failure leads to a cessation of breath that disrupts our sleep as our body unconsciously does not attempt to continue breathing. Typically, CSA is associated with severe illnesses related to areas in the brain where breathing is controlled. CSA is sometimes seen in newborns because of potentially less-developed areas of the brain, which in turn may produce pauses in breathing.
Mixed Sleep Apnea is a combination of OSA and CSA, often referred to as Complex Sleep Apnea. When conditions of OSA and CSA arise simultaneously, Mixed Sleep Apnea can occur. However, there is very little research done on this area and still remains a mysterious phenomena for many sleep specialists.
The three types of Sleep Apnea listed above all eventually lead to a fragmented sleep pattern and poor quality sleep. And in all three apneas, those who remain undiagnosed will continue to have difficulty during sleep and will often awaken multiple times in the night for over a minute without any memory of doing so in the morning. Without being treated, sleep apnea has the ability to raise blood pressure, as well as cause cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, fatigue, depression, and more.
How Do You Take Care of Sleep Apnea?
To seek treatment, you must first be diagnosed with sleep apnea. This can be done in the following ways:
The most definitive way to receive a sleep apnea diagnosis is through an Overnight Sleep Study conducted at a sleep lab.
An overnight evaluation monitors your breath and other bodily functions while you sleep. Typically at sleep labs, technicians will use Nocturnal Polysomnography to measure and observe your sleep activity. This test, also known as PSG, shows the measurements of many channels of information that change as we move through the sleep stages. These channels include your heart rate, blood oxygen level, brain activity, and muscle movements. Ultimately, the sleep lab will be able to inform you about your diagnosis and unconscious sleep tendencies.
Another method you can seek to be diagnosed is through a disposable At-Home Sleep Apnea Test. This method may be especially useful, as overnight sleep studies might not be convenient or possible for everyone. At-Home Sleep Apnea Tests are also preferred evaluations because of their easy-to-use nature. These tests are performed with special equipment that are simplified versions of the assessments that are used to diagnose sleep apnea. Typically, this equipment measures heart rate, blood oxygen, airflow, breathing patterns, body position, snoring and sleep stages (unique to WatchPAT). This equipment can be sent directly to your home and requires minimal effort in order to complete your diagnosis.
Methods of Treatment
If you suffer from a mild case of sleep apnea, your healthcare provider may suggest treatments that are based on lifestyle changes, such as exercising or quitting smoking.
For severe cases, there are multiple forms for treatment that you can seek when diagnosed with any of the three types of sleep apnea. Some of the most common treatments include CPAP, BPAP, and ASV.
CPAP (or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is a form of therapy treatment that may benefit those who are diagnosed with moderate to severe sleep apnea. This machine sends air pressure to your airway passages during sleep through a mask. Because the air pressure is stronger than the surrounding air outside of the mask, it is enough to prevent your airways from closing, effectively preventing both snoring and apnea.
There are multitudes of masks that you can try on to see which one is the most comfortable fit for you, so don't give up if you experience some discomfort at first. Having a good night's sleep is the most important aspect for your health, so if you do encounter problems, discuss with your doctor how you may be able to overcome those issues.
BPAP (or Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) is another type of therapy treatment, similar to CPAP, in that they are both masks that provide air pressure directly into the airway. A BPAP differs from CPAP because they provide more pressure during inhalation and less pressure during exhalation while you sleep. This device is made in order to keep the airways in both the throat and nose open, so it is especially useful for those who have muscle or nerve problems. BPAPs can also be customized to have a certain number of times per minute that you breathe. BPAP is most often used for very severe and extreme cases of sleep apnea.
ASV (or Adaptive Servo Ventilation) is the third most common type of treatment for sleep apnea. This is another non-invasive option that is specifically made for adults with OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) and CSA (central sleep apnea). Although ASV is a relatively newer machine that monitors breathing, it is one of the better options to consider. ASV is unique from both CPAP and BPAP in that it adapts to the breathing patterns of those who use it. It continuously adjusts automatically throughout the night to meet your needs and keep you feeling comfortable while you sleep.
Other types of treatments include Oral Appliance Therapy. This is an option for those who suffer from Mild or REM-related OSA. This therapy entails an appliance that fits much like a dental retainer, and is an apt alternative to CPAP or BPAP treatments. If your doctor agrees that this non-invasive option is the best fit for you, all you'll need is a prescription from your doctor as well as a referral to a dentist, who will recommend an oral appliance that best fulfils your needs.
At the end of the day, it is important to make sure to pay attention to your sleeping habits and health, and if you experience any symptoms of sleep apnea, to contact your healthcare provider and schedule either an In-Lab Sleep Test or At-Home Sleep Test immediately.
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