Tossing, turning, snoring and waking up in a fog might mean more than just a bad night’s sleep, especially if it happens on a regular basis. You may actually be experiencing sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a common, serious disorder that causes you to stop breathing during sleep. When this happens, you may snore loudly and/or make choking noises as you try to breathe. Your body becomes oxygen deprived and you awaken.
For many people, this happens a few times on a nightly basis. In more severe cases, it can occur up to several hundred times a night. Many people would be surprised to know how common the condition is and that they may actually suffer from sleep apnea. Oftentimes, it is a bed partner who complains of loud snoring, gasping for air and the cessation of breathing. The bed partners are usually the ones that suggest that the patient seek treatment.
There are consequences of untreated sleep apnea. These range from annoying to life threatening. They include irritability, depression, learning and memory difficulties as well as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and erectile dysfunction, in more severe cases.
When a sleep disorder is suspected, it is vital to discuss this with your physician, who may order a sleep study. This is an overnight test that grades the quality of your sleep by monitoring the electrical activity of the brain, eye movement, muscle activity, heart rate, respiratory effort, air flow into the lungs and the oxygen levels. These parameters will allow the physician to diagnose the type of sleep apnea as well as the level of severity.
There are three types of sleep apnea: central, obstructive and mixed.
Central sleep apnea is present in 15 to 20 percent of patients. In central sleep apnea, the brain fails to send a signal to the muscles to breathe, causing apnea. This is usually treated successfully with medication.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of apnea. It occurs in approximately 80 percent of apnea patients. In obstructive sleep apnea, the soft tissues in the rear of the throat collapse and close the airway, causing the patient to stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep cycle — sometimes up to hundreds of times per night. With each apnea event, the blood oxygen levels fall below normal. This sends a signal to the brain which aroused the person from sleep to resume normal breathing, but consequently, sleep is extremely fragmented and of poor quality.
Mixed apnea is a combination of both central and obstructive apnea.
You may be suffering from sleep apnea if you have any of the following:
• Lack of energy
• Morning headaches
• Large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
• Excessive daytime sleepiness
• Nighttime gasping, choking or coughing
• Gastroesophageal reflux (GE reflux)
• Irregular breathing during sleep (snoring)
• Overweight (BMI greater than 30)
• More than 40 years of age
If you suspect that you may have sleep apnea, speak with your family physician about a sleep study. The Madison Health Sleep Lab is staffed with registered polysomnographers (sleep specialists) to assist you with the diagnosing of a sleep disorder and is operated in conjunction with Madison Health’s alliance partner, Mount Carmel Health System.
Dr. David Ralston of Mount Carmel Medical Group is the board-certified specialist who interprets each study performed at the Madison Health Sleep Lab. This partnership allows each patient to be diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.
We invite you to call or visit the Madison Health Sleep Lab if you have any questions concerning your sleep habit. We can be reached at 740-845-7370.
Here’s to a better night’s sleep and a healthier tomorrow.
Nadene Schlosser, CRT, RCP, is director of cardiopulmonary services at Madison Health.