What Is Sleep Apnea
Simply put, sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. In many cases, an apnea, or temporary pause in breathing, is caused by the tissue in the back of the throat collapsing. The muscles of the upper airway relax when you fall asleep. If you sleep on your back, or side, gravity can cause the tongue to fall back. This behavior will narrow the airway, which reduces the amount of air that can reach your lungs. The narrowed airway causes snoring by making the tissue in back of the throat vibrate vigorously as you breathe. The "apnea" in sleep apnea refers to a breathing pause that lasts at least ten seconds or more.
Another form of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea, in which the brain fails to properly control breathing during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is far more common than central sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea, or simply sleep apnea, can cause fragmented sleep and low blood oxygen levels. For people with sleep apnea, the combination of disturbed sleep and oxygen starvation may lead to hypertension, heart disease and mood and memory problems. Sleep apnea also increases the risk of drowsy driving.
Chronic snoring is a major indicator of sleep apnea and should be evaluated by a health care professional. Since people with sleep apnea tend to be sleep deprived, they may suffer from sleeplessness and a wide range of other symptoms such as:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sexual dysfunction
- Learning and memory difficulties
- Falling asleep at work, on the phone, or while driving.
Sleep Can Lead to the Following If Left Untreated:
- Excessive sleepiness during the day
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Congestive heart failure
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Stroke or depression
The Veterans Who May Be Affected:
- Overweight veterans
- Highly medicated veterans
- Overworked veterans