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Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects regular breathing patterns. There are two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. In obstructive sleep apnea, the upper airway becomes obstructed causing regular airflow to be restricted or stopped entirely. With central sleep apnea, breathing ceases due to a lack of brain signals. In some cases, sleep apnea can also occur as a combination of the two and is referred to as mixed sleep apnea.

Diagram showing normal sleep, snoring, and sleep apnea breathing patterns

Did You Know?

It is estimated that approximately 22 million Americans are affected by sleep apnea. Out of all these cases, obstructive sleep apnea is the most commonly occurring form of sleep apnea.

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

 

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

Common symptoms of sleep apnea are snoring or gasping while sleeping, breathing that is significantly reduced or temporarily absent while sleeping, waking frequently to urinate,  headaches or dry mouth upon waking in the morning, and a generalized feeling of sleepiness during the day time accompanied by an inability to focus.

Some possible risk factors for sleep apnea include: being male, being over the age of 40, having a neck size over 17 inches in men and 16 inches in women, having a family history of sleep apnea, having a large tongue or tonsils and a small jaw, and having a nasal obstruction from a deviated septum, allergies, or sinus issues.

If you have been experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea or have an increased risk for developing sleep apnea, schedule a consultation with Overlake Internal Medicine Associates today!

When is sleep apnea dangerous?

Although you may think the only problem caused by sleep apnea is being tired all the time, sleep apnea can easily become dangerous. If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause a range of issues, including: high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, depression, increased ADHD symptoms, headaches, and heart problems such as heart failure, irregular heart beats, and heart attacks. The risk for these problems increases with age, as the body is less able to function properly with little sleep as it ages.

Diagram showing man with all the necessary materials for a sleep study

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

To diagnose sleep apnea, our doctors will perform a polysomnogram, commonly known as a sleep study. In a sleep study, surface electrodes are placed on your face and scalp to record electrical signals of the brain and muscles, special belts are placed around your chest and abdomen to monitor your breathing patterns, and an oximeter probe is placed on your finger to measure the concentration of oxygen in your blood. These recordings of your physical activity while sleeping will be analyzed to determine if you have any sleep disorders. In some cases, if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea during your sleep study, further testing may be needed to find the best treatment option. 

Obstructive sleep apnea has three levels of severity and is diagnosed using one of these levels. The severity of obstructive sleep apnea is determined by the number of times your breathing pauses per each hour of sleep. This is called the apnea-hypopnea index or AHI. In mild obstructive sleep apnea AHI falls between 5 and 15, moderate obstructive sleep apnea falls between 15 and 30, and severe obstructive sleep apnea is any AHI over 30.

What treatments are available for sleep apnea?

Treatments for sleep apnea include lifestyle changes, CPAP machines, specialized dental appliances, and surgical alterations. Sometimes a combination of these methods can be used to achieve the best results.

Lifestyle changes that can reduce sleep apnea symptoms include: losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills, altering sleep positions and not sleeping on your back, and quitting smoking.

Another treatment option is to use specialized devices such as a CPAP machine or dental appliance. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is a specialized mask that maintains steady airflow into your nose to keep your airway open and regulate your breathing patterns. Certain dental appliances can also be used to keep your airway open while you sleep.

The final treatment option for sleep apnea is to surgically modify the structure responsible for your sleep apnea. If your sleep apnea is due to a deviated septum, enlarged tonsils, or an overbite with a small lower jaw, then surgery may be recommended to correct these structural issues and alleviate your sleep apnea.

Can sleep apnea be cured?

Whether or not sleep apnea can be cured depends on the cause for sleep apnea. Although oral appliances and CPAP machines help alleviate symptoms, they don’t actually cure sleep apnea. However sleep apnea can be cured by losing weight or by surgically removing the tissue that causes airway obstruction.

 

CPAP Machine

Which sleep apnea mask/machine is the best?

Finding the best sleep apnea mask is a matter of finding the mask that works best for your individual needs. Factors such as head size, the presence of facial hair, hair style, sleep position, allergies, whether or not you are a mouth breather, the mask’s connection to oxygen, level of humidity, size, and comfort all must be considered when finding the best sleep apnea mask. To have the best treatment outcomes, it is important to have a mask that is comfortable and addresses your needs.

 

How can I sleep better at night?

To sleep better at night, follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid drinking coffee, tea, and soft drinks in the evening
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before bedtime to make you sleepy
  • Avoid using your computer, smartphone, or other sources of “blue light” 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • Don’t take naps after 3pm in the afternoon
  • Give yourself a cool place to sleep and avoid turning the heat up too much
  • Don’t eat a large meal or snack before bed
  • Check your prescription drugs for stimulants. Talk to your doctor about taking them in the morning instead of the evening
  • Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday and avoid sleeping in since this can alter your sleep patterns

Tired of being tired? Schedule a consultation with our sleep doctors at Overlake Internal Medicine Associates of Bellevue today and we can help you get a good night’s sleep!