Sleep apnea (apnea is a Latin word meaning “without breath”) is a serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops long enough during sleep to decrease the amount of oxygen and increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood and brain. In sleep apnea, breathing stops or becomes very shallow for periods of 10 to 20 seconds or longer many times during the night. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by repetitive episodes of upper airway obstruction that occur during sleep, usually associated with a reduction in blood oxygen saturation.
The most common signs of sleep apnea are loud snoring and choking or gasping during sleep and being sleepy during the day.
Having a physical exam and providing your doctor with information about your sleep will help to diagnose sleep apnea. Your doctor may also want you to have special sleep tests. A sleep test, called polysomnography is usually done to diagnose sleep apnea. There are two kinds of polysomnograms. An overnight polysomnography test involves monitoring brain waves, muscle tension, eye movement, respiration, oxygen level in the blood and audio monitoring. (for snoring, gasping, etc.) The second kind of polysomnography test is a home monitoring test. A Sleep Technologist hooks you up to all the electrodes and instructs you on how to record your sleep with a computerized polysomnograph that you take home and return in the morning.
Treatment is aimed at restoring regular nighttime breathing and relieving symptoms such as loud snoring and daytime sleepiness. Treatment will also help associated medical problems, such as high blood pressure, and reduce the risk for heart attack and stroke. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. CPAP is a machine that blows air into your nose via a nose mask, keeping the airway open and unobstructed.