Sleep apnea refers to the interruption of breathing during sleep. The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea, this is when the muscles of the soft palate around the base of the tongue and uvula relax, thus obstructing the airway. This airway obstruction causes the level of oxygen in the blood to fall, increases the stress on the heart, elevates blood pressure and prevents you from entering “REM sleep”, the restful and restorative stage of sleep. Sleep apnea causes the deprivation of quality sleep.
The symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring or abnormal pattern of snoring with pauses and gasps, excessive daytime sleepiness, memory changes, depression and irritability. In some patients sleep apnea can contribute to high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke and heart attack. About 4% of middle-aged men and 2% of middle-aged women have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can be aggravated by alcohol, sleeping pills and tranquilizers taken at bedtime.
Sleep Laboratories” are available to monitor different stages of sleep, diagnose sleep apnea, determine the type and severity of sleep apnea and design treatment.
General measures in treating sleep apnea include weight loss, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, sleeping on one side and medications to relieve nasal congestion. More specific treatment include CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure), oral appliances to open the airway, and ENT surgery, where the surgeon removes excessive soft tissue in the back of the throat to relieve obstruction. CPAP is an effective treatment for sleep apnea. A mask is worn over the nose during sleep while air is gently forced into the airway to splint it open.