Sleep apnea is a condition which is characterized by cessation of breathing for a few seconds to minutes and is associated with a drop in blood oxygen level. The term apnea refers to complete stoppage in breathing while hypopnea refers to shallow or restricted breathing.
There are two types of sleep apnea: Obstructive and Central. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common condition and is caused by an actual, physical obstruction in the airway. This obstruction can be due to narrowing of airway, collapsing of airway, laxity of muscles, large tongue, etc. Central sleep apnea, on the other hand, is due to lack of breathing impulse from the brain which in turns leads to stoppage of breath.
Untreated sleep apnea has far reaching health implications and increases healthcare expenditure. It also leads to worsening of pre-existing disorders like hypertension, diabetes, cardiac issues, etc. Studies have shown that treating sleep apnea leads to better control of blood pressure, blood sugar, decreases risk of stroke and improves overall cardiac health.
Patients who have sleep apnea often complain of forgetfulness, mental fog, lethargy, sleepiness and fatigue among other symptoms. All of these lead to loss of productivity at work and increase chances of workplace and automobile accidents. Managing sleep disorders has shown to improve neurocognitive functioning and decreased risk of vehicular accidents as per studies conducted in the United States. Long haul truck drivers and locomotive drivers are now regularly screened for sleep apnea in many countries to prevent catastrophic accidents caused by a very easy to treat disease.
There are multiple treatment options available ranging from CPAP machines and dental devices to surgery. The exact cause and level of sleep apnea needs to be evaluated by a sleep specialist to determine appropriate treatment needed. We spend a large part of our lives sleeping. Anyone experiencing sleep difficulties should have their sleep evaluated and see a specialist for corrective measures. In conclusion, sleep health is very important for healthy living and should not be ignored.