What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea can be a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. There are several types of sleep apnea; the most common is obstructive sleep apnea. This occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax too much to allow for normal breathing. These muscles support oral structures, including the soft palate, the uvula, the tonsils, and the tongue.
When these muscles relax, the airway narrows or closes as you breathe in, causing inadequate breathing for 10-20 seconds. This may lower the oxygen levels in your blood. The brain senses this inability to breathe and abruptly wakes you up from sleep so you can reopen your airway. Many people awaken with a shortness of breath that quickly corrects itself, within one or two deep breaths. Some people make a “snorting”, choking, or gasping sound. This pattern can repeat itself five to 30 times or more each hour, all night long. These disruptions impair your body’s ability to reach the necessary deep, restful phase of sleep. Many people are unaware their sleep is interrupted; they even become accustom to their daytime sleepiness.
The most notable sign of obstructed sleep apnea is snoring, although not everyone that snores has obstructed sleep apnea. Anyone can develop obstructive sleep apnea, yet, it is more common in older, overweight adults.