Sleeping apnea is a medical condition where the sufferer has difficulties in getting a peaceful night's rest due to suffering from periodic pauses in breathing throughout the night. These pauses, called apneas, can last from several seconds to several minutes. Once the apnea has passed, regular breathing is resumed, usually coupled with a gasping for breath.
There are two types of sleeping apnea - central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea is when a person's brain doesn't control or regulate their breathing properly throughout the night. Obstructive sleep apnea, by far the most common, occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open or something blocks or 'obstructs' the airway (like muscle tissues or the soft palate). Because of this obstruction in their airway, sleep apnea sufferers have a tendency to gasp for breath after experiencing an apnea - as their brain is telling them that they need to breath.
To anyone sleeping beside someone suffering from sleep apnea, they could themselves be suffering. In addition to periodic pauses in breathing, sleep apnea sufferers tend to snore. This snoring, along with gasps for breath, which sometimes looks (and sounds) as if the sufferer is choking, can make it very difficult for the bed partner to get a good night's sleep.
As well as causing fragmented sleep, obstructive sleep apnea can cause low blood oxygen levels which can lead to a host of other medical conditions including heart disease, severe mood swings, depression or hypertension. And, because people suffering don't get the quality sleep they should, they end up feeling groggy and tired during the day. These constant feelings of sleepiness can lead to serious problems such as car accidents, as the individual may be unable to fight fatigue while driving and end up falling asleep at the wheel.
In the United States alone, the number of sleep apnea sufferers is somewhere between 18 and 20 million. Because people suffering from sleep apnea may not themselves know that they have this sleeping disorder (many people don't wake up even after gasping for breath), the exact number of people suffering from sleeping apnea is hard to pinpoint. And, the only way to be certain that you've got sleep apnea is to take a sleep test (or sleep study) where a professional sleep doctor monitors and records your body's activities throughout the night.
If you believe that you, or someone close to you, may be suffering from sleeping apnea, get them to speak to their doctor and set up an appointment to have a sleep study.
If you're looking for more information about sleep apnea or how to cure sleep apnea, be sure to check out the related pages box on the right hand side.
Remember, there are many cures and treatments for sleep apnea. Some sleep apnea cures are drastic, as in surgery or wearing a CPAP mask to bed; but some simply involve a change in lifestyle or sleeping position. Even if you have sleeping apnea, something can be done about it.