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 Sleep  Holistic-online.com

Sleep Apnea

Introduction to Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes breathing to stop during sleep for anywhere from ten seconds up to several minutes. These pauses in breathing, called apneas, can occur hundreds of times a night and are more likely to occur in certain positions, particularly when sleeping on the back. If apnea is severe enough, the sleeper wakes up gasping for breath and may never get more than five minutes of uninterrupted sleep all night. Sleep apnea is more prevalent in older individuals, men, and overweight people.

When apnea occurs, the cessation in breathing causes a drop in blood oxygen levels, forcing the heart to labor harder to keep the blood oxygenated. The brain sends strong signals to the body to make an all-out effort to start breathing again. The chest muscles heave and the lungs work hard to draw in air, usually accompanied by gasps and loud snorts. The sleeper rouses just enough to shift position. While normal people might experience four or five of these breathing-related arousals during the night, people with apnea have dozens, even hundreds, of apnea episodes every night.

"Apnea is an unrecognized killer, but it is hiding in plain sight. Every night more than 50 million Americans stop breathing. In a stunning evolutionary failure, nature endowed us with throats that tend to collapse during sleep and stop air flow but did not endow our sleeping brains with the ability to start breathing again calmly. At this breathless moment, the immediate future holds only two possibilities: death or waking up to breathe. In the worst cases, no air enters the lungs for 40, 50, 60 seconds, or longer. The muscles of the diaphragm struggle harder and harder against the blocked throat, without success. Carbon dioxide builds up in the bloodstream and the level of life-giving oxygen falls precipitously. After a minute or more the brain is panicking, suffocating, screaming out for oxygen. The skin and lips turn blue. Just when death seems imminent, the sleeper suddenly struggles awake and the tongue and throat muscles tighten, allowing oxygen to flood into the lungs in a series of gasping, snorting breaths. Oxygen is restored to the blood, and the fatal course is reversed. Instead of being alarmed and staying awake, the victim is immediately asleep again. After a few seconds, snoring begins-and the cycle starts again, repeating hundreds and hundreds a time a night."

William C. Dement. MD: The Promise of Sleep

People who suffer from sleep apnea have a high risk of contracting hypertension, strokes, and heart disease. In severe cases, a sleep apnea victim may actually spend more time not breathing than breathing and may be at risk for death.

Sleep Apnea vs. Snoring

When you snore, the air you inhale is being forced to pass through partially blocked passages {such as the nostrils or the back of the throat). In other words, the air still flows when you are snoring. In contrast, during sleep apnea, the air flow stops completely.

How Does Apnea Interferes with Your Sleep?

Apnea severely interferes with sleep. During the sleep apnea episode, the victim is aroused just long enough to start breathing again, but not long enough to remember being awake. The chronic sleep disruption caused by sleep apnea may leave the victim feeling exhausted and sleepy during the day. In the morning, they will feel extremely groggy and unrested. They go through the day feeling sleepy and fatigued. The longer the condition persists, the more sleep-deprived they become.
This daytime sleepiness can be severe enough to cause automobile accidents. In a recent study, people who have sleep apnea are found to be seven times more likely to get into a car accident than the rest of the population.

See Your Medical Doctor When...

Your spouse notices that your loud snoring is interrupted by pauses in breathing of ten seconds or more, perhaps followed by gruff snorts or gasps for air. 
You snore and also have high blood pressure, leg swelling, memory lapses, trouble concentrating or problems getting or maintaining erections. 
You also complain of frequent daytime sleepiness or fall asleep during the day.

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