What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a disease that greatly impacts not only the quality of sleep but many other areas of your life as well. When you sleep, the muscles of the airway relax and collapses. In Sleep Apnea patients, this expansion partially or completely blocks the airway. This can cause you to choke and make it difficult to breathe. The blockages are called “apneas” and they can cause breathing to stop for sometimes as long as 10 seconds or more. This, in turn, lowers blood oxygen levels. Often times the person with Sleep Apnea is completely unaware that these issues are happening. Upon waking up in the morning, you’ll feel lethargic, slow, and have low energy. You may doze off while in traffic or late in the afternoon. Treating sleep apnea is done with CPAP therapy. Successful therapy can have a huge impact on your energy level and overall health.
There are 3 types of Sleep Apnea. They are: Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Central Sleep Apnea, and Complex Sleep Apnea (Mixed Sleep Apnea). We’ll go in-depth for each one below:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common form of Sleep Apnea. It can happen during sleep or even when lying down. As long as the muscles around the airway are relaxed, a blockage can occur.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is treated with a breathing machine called a CPAP machine. CPAP is an acronym that stands for “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure”. This means that pressurized air is forced through the airway, opening the passages up so that air can continuously reach the lungs. CPAP therapy has many benefits. Lower blood pressure, better sleep, more energy, and greater stamina are some of the benefits that can be achieved when using CPAP therapy.
Central Sleep Apnea
Central Sleep Apnea is so called because the source of the problem originates in the brain and the Central Nervous System. In Central Sleep Apnea, the brain occasionally does not generate the signals needed for breathing to occur. Treatment of Central Sleep Apnea can sometimes be done with a CPAP machine or another device like an adaptive servo-ventilator. An adaptive servo-ventilator monitors a patient’s breathing, and as needed it kicks in with extra airflow. Some patients can be treated with an unvented CPAP mask (kind of like breathing into a paper bag for hyperventilation), but the right treatment is unique to each individual.
Complex Sleep Apnea
Some patients being treated with CPAP therapy can develop Central Sleep Apnea. When this happens, the person is said to have Complex Sleep Apnea (Mixed Sleep Apnea). Of the 3 types of Sleep Apnea, Mixed Sleep Apnea is treated much differently from other forms of Sleep Apnea. In some cases, the patient may need a BiPAP machine or an adaptive servo-ventilator, depending on the severity of the condition and what’s needed. Not treating Complex Sleep Apnea poses serious health risks, and can lead to death if left untreated.
So now that you know a little bit about the different types of Sleep Apnea, it’s time to talk about sleep apnea symptoms.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea? Sleep Apnea Symptoms to Watch For
Sleep Apnea symptoms are varied and can be detected by knowing what to look for in your body. It’s also helpful to talk to someone that knows how you sleep, as some Sleep Apnea symptoms may not be noticeable because they occur during sleep. Here are some things to look out for:
- Unusually High Fatigue
- Waking Up Tired After a Long Sleep
- Suddenly Falling Asleep While Driving or Bored
- Loud Snoring
- Frequently Waking Up in the Middle of the Night
Unusually High Fatigue
Let’s talk about fatigue. Fatigue is a normal part of dealing with life, especially as you get older. But unusually high amounts of it, even after a long rest in ideal sleeping conditions, could mean that you are suffering from Sleep Apnea, and is one of the biggest Sleep Apnea symptoms to watch out for. Sleep is the body’s natural way to recharge, and when you don’t get enough of it, you’ll feel tired. One of the misconceptions of Sleep Apnea is that the mattress is the thing that most determines the amount of rest a person can get from sleep.
While a mattress improves comfort and may make it easier for you to fall asleep, comfort alone doesn’t make you feel more rested. Feeling rested, with no fatigue and lots of energy, comes more from breathing during sleep and less from the mattress you choose. If you have Sleep Apnea, you want to treat the Sleep Apnea, not buy a new mattress. The cost is about the same.
When Sleep Apnea is properly treated, you’ll find that you can sleep on a $100 mattress and eliminate most of your fatigue. The opposite is true if you have a $1,100 mattress, and no Sleep Apnea treatment. After all, one of the biggest misconceptions of Sleep Apnea is that sleep is all about comfort.
Falling Asleep While Tired or Bored
Ever doze off in a traffic jam or a long, lonely stretch of highway? Ever get bored while reading and doze off? Do you fall asleep while working on a computer in the late afternoon? If the answer is yes, these may be Sleep Apnea symptoms to watch for. Falling asleep suddenly can also be a symptom of Narcolepsy. Only a doctor can know for sure and will order a sleep study (a Sleep Apnea test you can usually do at home). The Sleep Apnea test, also called a sleep study, will tell you how many times you have an obstructed airway, and how many times your breathing stops during the night. Depending on the results, it can tell the doctor whether or not you have Sleep Apnea.
Has anyone ever told you that you snore? Does your sleeping partner complain about it? Snoring is caused by airway obstructions. Airway obstructions lead to apneas. An apnea is a temporary cessation of breathing. It’s a very serious issue as it can cause dangerous increases in blood pressure as well as cardiac trouble. Snoring isn’t just annoying, it’s dangerous to your health.
Sleep Apnea and Headaches
Low blood oxygen levels (which can develop from having sleep apnea) can cause a widening of the blood vessels. This, in turn, can cause headaches. Headaches are often the first sign that Sleep Apnea sufferers notice before getting diagnosed. Sleep Apnea and headaches are a common problem with sleep apnea, and by raising blood oxygen levels during sleep can mean the sleep apnea and headaches go away together. The most common way to raise blood oxygen levels and treat Sleep Apnea symptoms are CPAP machines. CPAP machines force the airway open during sleep and deliver much-needed oxygen to the lungs. This, in turn, raises blood oxygen levels and reduces vascular headaches.
Can Sleep Apnea Cause Anxiety?
Sleep Apnea and anxiety are linked in the fact that sleep deprivation can worsen existing anxiety disorders– or cause them. A good night’s sleep is not just beneficial to a person’s wellbeing and function, but a good night’s sleep can also reduce anxious feelings and make it easier to control overall anxiety. Can Sleep Apnea Cause Anxiety? It can, but don’t think of it as the direct cause.
It’s like this: Obstructive Sleep Apnea can reduce the quality of your sleep, and that reduction can cause or worsen a person’s anxiety. For more information about this, please see an article about this topic, published by the ADAA a national organization dedicated to Anxiety: Can Sleep Apnea Cause Anxiety?
Sleep Apnea affects roughly 22 million people, with approximately 80% being undiagnosed. Treating Sleep Apnea is a journey that will take some time to get used to. Once you have that first night of great sleep, and you wake up feeling rested and energized, you’ll not regret a single minute that you spent getting to that point.
David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it’s like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient’s perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.