What is sleep apnea?
It is a common disorder involving pauses in breathing, shallow breath, or a complete cessation of breathing, for long periods of time while sleeping. Pauses in inhalation may last a minimum of 10 seconds to minutes at a time, disrupting one's natural sleeping pattern repeatedly throughout the night. Normal breathing typically resumes with a loud snort or choking sound. Why do you stop breathing? According to research, there are two explanations for this:
Obstructed Sleep Apnea (OSA), is the most common form involving 80 percent of all sleep apnea cases. OSA is caused by a blockage of the airway passage. Often times, snoring will result as air squeezes past the blockage.
Central Sleep Apnea is a less common form of sleep apnea and occurs when the brain fails to communicate effectively with the respiratory muscles. In CSA, the brain fails to signal the body to breath.
It is important to understand that irregular breathing patterns affect the quality of sleep and, subsequently, the proper functioning of a healthy system. When shallow breathing or cessation of breath occur, the sleeper is taken out of deep sleep and into light sleep, effectively missing out on the regenerative benefits that deep slumber provides. In effect, the body is now subject to the detrimental effects that come with sleep deprivation.
What are the causes of sleep apnea?
What can stimulate such a cascade of negative health effect? Let's examine the factors that contribute to irregular breathing patterns. Sleep apnea causes include the following:
It's a known fact that obesity carries with it a myriad of health concerns. Research shows that large amounts of fatty tissue in the mouth and throat area can obstruct air flow. The most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea is excess weight and obesity which is associated with soft tissue of the mouth and throat. It's also been shown that instability of the throat, due to lack of physical fitness, causes airway passages to collapse on themselves when laying supine. While obesity can be corrected through proper diet and exercise, there are biological factors that can also restrict air flow.
B. LARGE TONSILS AND UVULA
Have you ever looked at the back of your throat and observed your tonsils? These lymphoid tissues are made of fat, and depending on their size relative to the airway passage, may also contribute towards constricting air flow during sleep. Similarly, the Uvula, which hangs down from the top of the back of your mouth, can be a cause for airflow obstruction as well.
C. ALCOHOL AND SEDATIVE MEDICATIONS
For those who drink heavily or use sedative medication to aid in sleep, you may find yourself suffering from daytime grogginess due to obstructed sleep patterns. Alcohol and sedative medications impair breathing by relaxing the muscles that support the airway, making it more likely to collapse.
Long term effects and general health issues.
It is clear to see that sleep apnea and the loss of proper breathing can contribute to the detriment of your health. Untreated sleep apnea often leads to a decrease in blood oxygen levels, causing high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease.
Memory problems, weight gain, and headaches can also result from the effects of poor health and improper sleeping habits. Decreased quality in personal performance and daytime activities may all hint at disruptive sleeping patterns. Lethargy and sleeping at the wheel are all tell-tale signs you may not be getting the rest you need.
Luckily, maintaining good health and diet, with proper exercise will ensure that your body is functioning at its best, especially as it rests. There is no better reason to ensure you are acquiring unobstructed sleep than to realize that it provides longevity. The benefits that unobstructed sleep offers the mind and body are vital for sustainability and living a long and healthy life.
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