Anything that prevents normal sleep is a sleeping disorder. If you suffer from a sleeping disorder, you are not alone. The National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 12 million Americans, young and old, suffer from sleep apnea.
Apnea, from the Greek word meaning without breath, causes pauses in breathing during sleep, sometimes for 20 seconds or longer, several hundred times per night. Severe apnea may result in an incomplete night of sleep, causing sleepiness the rest of the day. The lack of sleep may affect performance at school and work. Often people who suffer from apnea are not aware that they have the condition until a partner or family member alerts them to their loud snoring.
Typically, apnea is classified into one of three types:
- Mixed (a combination of obstructive and central types)
Your doctor may recommend a sleep study to better understand the nature of your sleep disorder.
The most common form of apnea, obstructive apnea is usually caused by blockage of the back of the nose and throat area while the patient is asleep. The blockage causes the patient to stop breathing periodically. Obstructive apnea can occur in adults and children, and occurs more commonly in men. Other symptoms of obstructive apnea include:
- Gasping for air
- Restless sleep
- Sleeping in unusual positions
Unlike obstructive apnea, caused by blockages in the airways, central apnea may be due to neurological causes. Central apnea may be a result of heart disease, according to some research. The patient’s brain is unable to control breathing normally. Therefore, treatments for central apnea focus on treating the neurological causes, rather than just keeping the airways open.
As its name implies, mixed apnea may be a result of blockages in the airways (obstructive apnea) and neurological factors (central apnea).