Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person stops breathing briefly over and over again as they sleep. These sleeping pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and may occur as many as 30 times an hour. During an episode of apnea, your brain becomes starved of oxygen and your body is pulled out of natural deep sleep so that your airway can open and let air in. As a result you end up feeling drowsy and fatigued during waking hours. Your reflexes and concentration are also affected which can increase the risk of accidents.
There are three types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This occurs due to partial blocking of the airway as a person is sleeping. Due to oxygen deprivation, the brain signals the body to awake partially in order to take a breath. A person may then wake up with a loud gasp, sigh or snort.
- Central Sleep Apnea: Here, the brain fails to signal the muscles that control breathing to stimulate air intake causing your breathing to stop and start repeatedly.
- Mixed Sleep Apnea: This is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apneas.
Left untreated, oxygen deprivation and fragmented sleep caused by sleep apnea can result in hypertension, high blood pressure, weight gain, mood and memory problems and heart disease.