Does your sleep partner complain that you snore like a chainsaw? If so, you may be one of the millions of Americans who suffer from sleep apnea, but are unaware of it.
Snoring is depicted in movies and TV as a comic trait, but it can be a symptom of a serious condition that requires medical attention. Of course, many people who snore do so for other reasons, and some people who have sleep apnea don’t exhibit the snoring symptom, but it is important to consider if you might be part of the undiagnosed sufferers.
Dr. Andrew Verneuil, writing on the MedicineNet website, reports that only 10% of those with sleep apnea are currently being treated. This represents a large population at risk, because according to the American Sleep Apnea Association, 12 million Americans have sleep apnea.
What exactly is sleep apnea? It is defined as episodes of cessation of breathing during sleep. There are two main types with different causes.
In obstructive sleep apnea, the airway temporarily collapses causing the level of oxygen in the blood to decrease. This causes the brain to signal the body to wake up, sometimes with a startle, gasp, or snorting sound. The sleeper can actually stop breathing hundreds of times in the course of a night, sometimes for as long as a minute. People may or may not remember awakening, but few sufferers can believe how many times it happens until a clinical test reveals the figures.
The other type is central sleep apnea where the brain doesn’t send the body the proper signal to breath. This is less common and occurs in neurological and stroke patients as well as premature infants. Some people have a mixture of both types.
People with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to snore while lying on their back. Rolling over to the side lessen the noise. Other signs to watch out for include waking with a dry mouth, frequent morning headache or feeling extremely tired during the day.
Risk of sleep apnea is greatly increases with obesity. Dr Verneuil states that 70% of obese patients have obstructive sleep apnea. It’s two to three times more common in men than women before age 50, but as we get older, both sexes have equal risk.
A naturally narrow throat can be a cause, also. A neck size of more than 17″ is another risk factor. Use of alcohol, sedatives, or tobacco adds to the danger.
Because sleep is constantly disrupted by this condition, daytime sleepiness is quite common. This can lead to inability to function properly at work, and greatly increased danger of accidents in vehicles and with other machinery. Eventually the serious effects of sleep apnea appear, resulting in high blood pressure, impotency, mood disorders, stroke, heart disease and sudden death.
If you have any of these risk factors, think you might be awakening abruptly at night or your partner sees these symptoms, check with your doctor.