Everything You Need to Know About Sleep Apnea: Symptoms, Impact and Sleep Study

February 12, 2020

Sleep is a necessary part of the human daily routine. Just like food and water, it is a naturally recurring state essential for the health of the body and the mind. Although scientists haven't been able to pinpoint a specific reason for the necessity of sleep, they have some idea of the importance of it, some of which being repair of the wear and tear of the body, facilitates learning and memory, and plays a role in the function of the immune system and removing of toxins in the brain that build up during the waking state, among other benefits. It is an active period when processing, restoration and strengthening occurs. Hence, experts advocate that adult needs at least 6 - 8 hrs. of sleep every night. But most adults complain of a lack of sleep. If it is a recurring problem, then it is better to consult a doctor as it could be a sleeping disorder.

 

Sleep Apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders that many suffer from today. It is a chronic and potentially serious medical condition in which breathing starts and stops repeatedly during sleep. This can affect anyone, even children. A person with sleep apnea may stop breathing for ten seconds or longer, many times in an hour. This causes low oxygen levels in the blood. The body senses this and pulls out of deep sleep to resume breathing again. As a result, a person's sleep is interrupted multiple times. There are three types of sleep apnea, namely:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The most common of the three that occurs when the throat muscles relax.
  • Central sleep apnea: This happens when the brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome: This occurs when someone has both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

 

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The common symptoms of both obstructive and central sleep apnea are:

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Episodes where one stops breathing while sleeping (This would be reported by another person)
  • Awakening with dry mouth
  • Morning headache
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty paying attention while awake
  • Excessive sleepiness during the day (hypersomnia)
  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)

 

It is better to consult a doctor if you find yourself with these symptoms. Sleep apnea, if left untreated can cause a lot of health problems, including hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, heart failure automobile accidents caused by falling asleep at the wheel, stroke, memory problems, weight gain and depression. It can also worsen existing medical conditions. The symptoms mentioned above may not occur at the same time, so it is difficult to recognize it. This disorder is best diagnosed with polysomnography, also known as a sleep study.

 

Since sleep apnea or any kind of sleep disorder can't be clearly identified with a normal office visit, a sleep study is recommended by the doctor. A Sleep Study or polysomnography is a non-invasive overnight exam that allows doctors to monitor the patient while they sleep to see what is happening in the brain and body. This is done in a hospital or a sleep center. An EEG monitors the patient's sleep stages and cycles of REM and NREM sleep to identify possible disruptions in the sleep pattern. The technologist monitors the following throughout the night:

  • Brain waves
  • Eye movements
  • Heart rate
  • Body position
  • Blood oxygen level
  • Breathing pattern
  • Limb movement
  • Chest and abdominal movement
  • Snoring and other noises made during sleep

Data from the sleep study is recorded by the technologist and then evaluated by the doctor.

 

Sleep plays a vital role in maintaining good health and well-being. It carries out the more important physical and mental processes, keeps the immune system healthy, and regulates the level of the hormones ghrelin and leptin (plays a role in the feelings of hunger and fullness). In fact, the body and the brain are more active during sleep than during the waking state. Regular and uninterrupted sleep is essential for brain function, physical health, emotional wellbeing and personal safety. If one is having any of the symptoms of sleep apnea, then it is best to consult a doctor as soon as possible.

 

With Inputs from

Dr. Vighnesh Y, M.D (Internal Medicine)
Consultant Physician, CallHealth

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