An Introduction to Sleep Apnea
By Andrew Senske, President
Last Updated 12/18/2006 8:02:00 PM

Definition of Sleep Apnea
The Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia describes apnea the following way:

"Apnea, cessation of breathing. Periods of apnea in which breathing ceases for a few seconds before resuming may occur during sleep. When apnea alternates with periods of rapid, heavy breathing (hyperapnea), such cycles are called Cheyne-Stokes respiration; they may be due to lack of oxygen in the brain, accumulation of acid in the blood, increased pressure on the brain stem, or heart failure. Apnea may be associated with such harmful conditions as irregularities in heartbeat, high blood pressure, and decreased contractile force of the heart muscle. It has also been linked to some cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Sleep apnea may be due to obstruction of the airway (obstructive sleep apnea), to some abnormality in the part of the brain that controls respiration (central sleep apnea), or to both (mixed sleep apnea). Obesity may be a contributing factor; people who suffer from sleep apnea are often advised to reduce, and also to avoid sedative or hypnotic drugs. Researchers can sometimes trace the cause to damage in areas of the brain involved with respiratory control." 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

The term apnea comes from the Greek apnoia and means literally "not breathing". People who suffer from the most common form of sleep apnea - obstructive sleep apnea - may stop breathing hundreds of times per night, sometimes for as long as one minute. As a result of this cessation in breathing throughout the course of the night, sufferers of sleep apnea experience excessive sleepiness during the day. People with sleep apnea are more prone to falling asleep while driving or while at work, and sleep apnea often causes high blood pressure, memory loss, and is even linked to heart disease (although it is unclear as to whether sleep apnea can actually cause heart disease or is simply a coexisting condition in someone who fits the profile for both disorders). Sleep apnea is often disruptive to anyone sleeping near the person who suffers from the condition. The snoring and gasping for air that are usually smyptoms of sleep apnea can easily awaken spouses, children, or roommates who in turn may then suffer from sleep-related problems such as sleep deprivation.

It is estimated that 1 in 25 middle-aged men and 1 in 50 middle-aged women suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, and many of these sufferers remain undiagnosed. Obstructive sleep apnea is as common as adult diabetes and adult asthma.

Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three types of sleep apnea - obstructive, central and mixed.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea, and occurs when the airway collapses and obstructs the flow of air into the lungs. The collapse of the airway is ususally a result of excessive tissue near the back of the airway, and can also be caused by a decrease in muscle tone in the throat area, or by a relaxation of muscular control due to alcohol or drugs.

Central sleep apnea is caused by a malfunction in the area of the brain responsible for controlling respiration. The thalamus, as this area of the brain is called, regulates the states of sleep and wakefulness and also regulates the functions of arousal and awareness.

Mixed sleep apnea is simply a combination of the other two types of sleep apnea.

You may have also heard of the term "hypopnea". A hypopnea is best described as shallow breathing. It is not an apnea, but many people who suffer from sleep apnea might also experience hypopnea events during sleep.

Methods of Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is the use of a CPAP machine like the REMstar Auto M Series or the S8 AutoSet Vantage. Once diagnosed with sleep apnea, the typical patient will purchase a CPAP machine which is designed to blow air continuously through a CPAP mask that the patient wears on his face throughout the night. The continuous flow of air from the CPAP machine through the CPAP mask acts as a stent keeping the airway open as long as the CPAP machine is in use. Weight loss should also be prescribed as treatment if necessary.

Do You Have Sleep Apnea?
Below is a list of the common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. If you experience any of the symptoms below I recommend you talk to your physician about sleep apnea and the possibility of undergoing a sleep study.

  • Snoring
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Someone telling you that you stopped breathing during sleep
  • Excessive sleepiness during the day
  • Loss of memory
  • Irritability
  • Falling asleep while driving
  • Falling asleep while at work
Each night millions of people suffer from the effects of sleep apnea, and most of these people remain undiagnosed. Armed with the right information these people can become informed, get diagnosed, and treat their sleep apnea. These people - and you may be one of them - are a CPAP machine and a CPAP mask away from a good night's sleep and a vastly improved quality of life.

Andrew Senske
President is a leading online retailer of CPAP equipment. Located in Spokane, WA has been serving thousands of customers around the world since 2001. Founded on a belief that patients are their own best primary care providers, understands the importance of educating patients and customers on both the effects of and treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. For more information visit or call toll free 1-888-955-2727.

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