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Information on Sleep Apnea

It is surprising that sleep apnea sleeping disorder was not recognized and understood until quite recently. The most significant progress in its research and awareness occurred in the 1980’s.

It took some time and effort on the part of medical researchers to provide new information on sleep apnea and educate the general public and even some general practitioners about this relatively common but misunderstood disease. 

The term " sleep apnea" means, more or less, "want to breathe while sleeping", from the Greek word "apnea" meaning "want to breathe".

In all cases of sleep apnea some part of the respiratory system narrows, impairing oxygen intake.  Lowered blood oxygen levels then trigger the brain to prompt the intake of breath.  The sleeper gasps, jump-starting the breathing process--until the next halt.  But doctors distinguish three types of sleep apnea: obstructive (OSA), central and mixed apnea.

In the United States it is estimated that more than 18 million adults have obstructive sleep apnea, while central sleep apnea is less common.
Sleep apnea also affects children, but the statistics here are less certain. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The typical person suffering from this most common and severe form of apnea is an overweight male between 35 and 50 who usually has a small jaw, a small opening to the airway at the back of the throat, and a large tongue or tonsils.

During sleep, the muscles of the soft palate and at the base of the tongue and the uvula (the "punching bag" structure hanging in the throat) relax and sag, blocking the airway, which collapses.

As breathing stops, the diaphragm and chest muscles strain until the block is literally uncorked, and a noisy gasp--the snore--is taken.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

When breathing stops, blood oxygen levels fall, forcing the heart to work harder. As a result, blood pressure rises, and the heartbeat may even become irregular. Obstructive sleep apnea is made worse by drinking alcohol or taking tranquilizers, antihistamines, or sleeping pills.

Central Sleep Apnea

In central sleep apnea the airway initially remains open but the diaphragm and chest muscles fail to work due to some malfunction of the brain which fails to send normal signals to breathe. Because the airway is typically open, this apnea sufferer does not snore loudly but does have daytime sleepiness. Central sleep apnea is more common among people over 60, and is often seen in nursing homes and among the ill.

Mixed Sleep Apnea

Many people with central sleep apnea commonly experience mixed apneas, in which a brief period of central apnea precedes a longer period of obstructive apnea.

For more information on Sleep Apnea check also:

Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Sleep Apnea Treatments
The Mechanics of Sleep Apnea
Find a Sleep Center

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