Sleep Apnea—Does Everyone Get It?

Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that occurs during sleep. Its most-recognizable symptom is snoring. But it isn’t the loud noise that is the problem. The danger lies in how long the sleeping person is not breathing, both in one instant and cumulatively throughout the night.

“zzz-zzz-ZZZZZeeeee.” That break between the snorts and the exhalation—as in the characteristic vocal imitation of “I’m letting you know I’m asleep”—could be a second or two or three or more of not breathing.

Of course a snorer is tired during the day because of the exertion to keep breathing. If the person has diagnosable sleep apnea, he or she is probably foggy-headed as well due to the frequency and duration of “no breath” events. A person with sleep apnea can be at risk for death due to lack of oxygen in the night or daytime accidents due inability to focus. It is a condition that worsens with age, so it should always be treated.

The word apnea means “without breath.” One technical determiner of apnea is the length of time between breaths. A minimum of 10 seconds would be considered apneic when accompanied by other characteristics we’ll get to in a moment. A normal healthy adult takes about 12 to 20 breaths per minute. Newborns breathe more than twice that often, and respirations per minute decrease with age until adulthood. Illness often increases respiration. That’s why respirations per minute are usually measured along with temperature and blood pressure during any visit to a physician.

If a person passes 10 seconds without breathing and does that consistently, that’s only six breaths per minute. In an apneic condition, one or both of two other events occur when breathing stops. Either the brain is aroused (the person gets less restful sleep) or blood oxygen thins out (brain starvation), or both. If these symptoms appear at least five times in one hour, the person’s condition is considered “clinically significant.” That does not mean the condition is ever insignificant.

Doctors tell us we cannot diagnose sleep apnea at home; though bed mates or even house mates of the snorer might be able to put money on the condition. Snoring, in and of itself, is not considered clinically significant. But if it is particularly loud, frequent or broken by silence before the person exhales, it might be time to make an appointment at a sleep clinic. If the person gets around eight hours’ sleep consistently and is tired throughout the day—not just at the end of the day—or falls asleep during other activities (driving, reading, resting a minute in a chair after a meal), take that as a second significant sign to seek help.

The test for sleep disturbances is called a polysomnogram. Because it measures brain activity, air flow, and physical movements at several body points, it will detect other sleep disturbances as well. It consists of having electrodes attached at various points so data can be conducted to a computer monitored in real time by a technician. Roughly equal numbers of people report being able to sleep through the test (suggested) as those who report they cannot.

There are three kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, or complex (a combination of obstructive and central). Obstructive sleep apnea accounts for 85% of the diagnoses. As the term suggests, normal air flow is physically blocked even though the sleeping person is exerting effort to breathe. Fortunately, central sleep apnea, in which the person is not exerting or cannot exert effort, occurs less than ½% of the time. The remainder of cases, around 15%, show a movement between effort and no effort with a resulting lack of air flow either way.

A common cause of obstructive sleep apnea is the collapse of the sleeper’s own throat muscles due to normal relaxation. Intermittent obstructive sleep apnea can be provoked by illness, such as sinusitis or tonsillitis.

You’ve probably heard people suggest turning a snorer over to his or her side. If the blockage was caused by throat relaxation or the way the pillow forced the chin to the chest, you may hear the sweet sound of quiet breathing after turning the person. If this technique works, it may be possible to sew or attach with hook-and-loop tape a tennis ball to the back of the person’s pajamas. Rolling over to the back would be uncomfortable, but not harmful, so the person might roll back to the side.

Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in adults than in children, in men than in women (except post-menopausal women) and in people with thick necks. Sometimes sleep apnea can be resolved by losing weight, reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption, or sleeping on one’s side. Since it’s often instigated by a narrowing of the upper airway, even a misplaced or misshapen pillow can account for the need to “snort” more air in.

If natural remedies do not offer enough aid, a person made need a positive airway pressure device (CPAP) or a dental appliance to position the jaw to aid in keeping the throat open. In children, surgical removal of tonsils and adenoids may be recommended.

It is important to remember habitual loss of sleep not only shortens one’s life, but reduces life quality all along the way. Get it tested. Get it resolved. Get some sleep. Visit : for more information about a healthy, natural sleep that you need.

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