What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. These episodes, called apneas, occur repeatedly throught sleep and each last long enough so one or more breaths is missed. The standard definition of any apneic event includes a minimum 10 second interval between breaths, with either a neurological arousal, or a blood oxygen desaturation of 3-4 percent or greater, or both arousal and desaturation. Sleep apnea is diagnosed with an overnight sleep test called polysomnogram.
Clinically significant levels of sleep apnea are defined as 5 events or greater per hour of sleep time of any type. There are two distinct forms of sleep apnea: Central Sleep Apnea and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. In Central Sleep Apnea breathing is interrupted by a lack of effort; in Obstructive Sleep Apnea, breathing is interrupted by a physical block to airflow despite effort. In addition a combination of the two, or Mixed Sleep Apnea, takes the form of transitions from central to obstructive features during the events themselves.
Regardless of type, individuals with sleep apnea are rarely aware of having difficulty breathing, even upon awakening. Sleep apnea is recognized as a problem by others witnessing the individual during episodes or is suspected because of its effects on the body. Symptoms may be present for years, even decades without identification, during which time the sufferer may become conditioned to the daytime sleepiness and fatigue associated with significant levels of sleep disturbance. The definitive diagnosis of sleep apnea is made by polysomnography and the most popular treatments are CPAP & BiPAP Therapy.