5. What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a chronic, very serious sleep disorder. It means that your breathing slows down or stops during sleep. As your brain recognizes the lack of oxygen, it stimulates respiration, causing a disruption in your sleep cycle. There are two main types of sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

When you sleep, your muscles – including those in the throat – relax during deep stages of sleep, which naturally narrows the airways. However, airways of sleep apnea sufferers narrow dramatically – so much so, that they close and air can’t pass through. OSA may cause you to snore or stop breathing for short periods of time.

Several different things can cause these airway blockages, such as extra tissue in the back of throat; lack of muscle tone surrounding the airways; and tongue movement that closes off airway passages. Being overweight increases the risk of developing OSA.

Central sleep apnea (CSA)

This less frequent type of sleep apnea occurs when your brain fails to send signals to the muscles that help you breathe. Snoring is not typically a side effect of CSA.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

Roughly 18 million people in the United States have some form of sleep apnea. Although chronic snoring is the most obvious sign of the disorder for many of these patients, not everyone who has sleep apnea snores. Other symptoms include:

  • extreme daytime fatigue or inability to focus
  • abrupt awakenings, which may be accompanied by shortness of breath
  • inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Large neck size (17+ inches for men; 16+ inches for women)
  • overweight or obesity
  • diabetes
  • distractibility and/or poor judgement
  • high blood pressure
  • sexual dysfunction (eg. impotence, lack of interest and or energy)
  • memory loss
  • irritability or changes in mood or behaviors
  • waking up with a sore throat or dry mouth

How can sleep apnea affect my health?

If you have more than two of the symptoms above, you are a likely candidate for this very serious medical condition and should seek help right away. In addition you might have a higher risk of developing a variety of serious, long-term health problems, including

  • type 2 diabetes
  • fatty liver disease
  • hypertension
  • heart disease
  • cancer
  • Additionally, lack of sound sleep causes sleep apnea sufferers to feel – and look – exhausted, and so puts them at more risk for avoidable personal injuries at work and on the road.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

Sleep apnea is mostly diagnoseable by using an at-home sleep test. An at-home sleep test is a diagnostic tool used to help to determine whether you have sleep apnea, and if so, which form of the condition you have. It is effective, convenient and you can do it from your own home, from your own bed.

The test requires you to wear special equipment that collects and records specific information about how you sleep, including your breathing rate, blood oxygen levels and heart-rate.

Once Dr. Battle receives the results of your at-home sleep test, she can establish a treatment plan designed to meet your specific needs.

How is sleep apnea treated?

Because sleep apnea can sap your energy and impact your overall health, it’s important to find the right solution. Your treatment options will depend on your specific diagnosis.

Mild to moderate OSA can often be treated through the use of an oral appliance. The oral appliance looks like a thicker pair of braces and it helps to keep your jaw in a position that maintains an open airway.

Severe OSA is most often treated with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). This therapy involves a device that opens the airway by applying a small amount of positive pressure, which is delivered through a nasal mask as you sleep.

As a physician who believes in natural solutions, Dr. Battle will also address any medical problems, such as obesity that may be contributing to or causing your sleep disorder.