If you stop breathing while sleeping, you most likely are one of millions of people who suffer from ‘sleep apnea’. Apnea literally means ‘no air’. Sleep apnea describes a condition where the sufferer experiences multiple pauses in breathing while sleeping.

If you have sleep apnea there’s a good chance you don’t even realize it. Most people don’t unless their bed partner tells them. Pauses in breathing are usually accompanied by loud snoring, though, so if you sleep with another person chances are they know about it.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea PillowSleep apnea is a condition that affects the way you breathe while sleeping. There are many possible causes, but ultimately it comes down to the muscles around the throat becoming relaxed and floppy while asleep. In the extreme case that becomes sleep apnea, the floppiness of the muscles allows the tissue around the throat to collapse and completely block off the air passages. This type of sleep apnea, by far the most common, is called obstructive sleep apnea.

There is another kind, called Central sleep apnea. It is caused by a problem in the central nervous system. The brain fails to properly signal the muscles that control breathing while sleeping. This is a much less common problem. This form of apnea rarely is accompanied by snoring.

During a night of sleep, breathing is interrupted or becomes very shallow. These pauses last from 10-20 seconds and they may occur hundreds of times a night. Sometimes the pause is slight, and sometimes it jolts the person awake, gasping for air.

The quality of sleep suffers as the sufferer is prevented from staying in deep, restorative sleep for more than a few minutes at a time. This leads to chronic sleep deprivation and all the symptoms that come with it, such as daytime sleepiness, poor reflexes, lack of concentration, etc.

The biggest concern related to sleep apnea is the increased risk of long-term serious health issues. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and weight gain.

How to Recognize Sleep Apnea

These are the most common symptoms of sleep apnea. Because they occur while you are asleep you will probably need to ask your bed partner if you exhibit any of them:

  • Loud and chronic snoring
  • Choking or gasping during sleep
  • Long pauses in breathing

There are some other tell-tale signs that are indicators of sleep apnea, which you can recognize in yourself. They include:

  • Frequently waking up with a dry mouth or a sore throat
  • Frequent morning headaches
  • Regular experience of restless or  unsatisfying sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness no matter how much time you spend in bed
  • Going to the bathroom frequently at night
  • Waking up out of breath
  • Moodiness, irritability, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating

Sleep Apnea is Serious

If you believe you may have sleep apnea you need to see your doctor right away. There are various treatments available. Because of the potentially serious side effects, however, it is not worth the risk to ignore the warning signs.

If you'd like more information about sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, check out this site.