Sleep apnea is a medical condition where sleep is repeatedly interrupted by apnea or hypopnea episodes. Apnea literally means “without breath” and is clinically defined as a period of at least ten seconds when you stop breathing (most apneas last between ten and thirty seconds).
There are four main types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive-occurs when muscles and other soft tissues in the airway collapse blocking the airflow (this is the most common form).
- Central-occurs due to a malfunction in the brain or heart. The brain stops communicating to the muscles that control breathing, so even though the airway is open, there is no airflow.
- Mixed-is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.
- Complex-occurs when central apneas develop because of the introduction of positive airway pressure for the treatment of obstructiveslee apnea.
Apneas cause your body to unconsciously “wake-up” in order to restore the airway. The more severe the sleep apnea, the more times your body is roused during sleep. This disrupts the continuity of sleep and prevents you from reaching the deep stages of sleep, like rapid eye movement (REM). Sleep is extraordinarily important to the function of our bodies. During sleep our tissues repair and our body resets and rests to prepare for the next day. Sleep apnea prohibits this repair. Despite getting the same amount of “time asleep” as other individuals, people with untreated sleep apnea do not get the same amount of “quality sleep”.
According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 20 million Americans have sleep apnea. Almost 85% or 17 million of those people are undiagnosed, making sleep apnea as common as asthma.