What Happen During Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Normally when you breathe in, air flows through the nose and/or mouth, past the back of the throat, and down into the lungs The reverse occurs when breathing out. When you fall asleep, breathing remains more or less the same, except that the rate of breathing slows down slightly.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when a person' airway repeatedly becomes blocked despite efforts to breathe. This breathing cessation is called obstructive sleep apnea. In cases where there are frequent episodes of both complete and partial blockage, the term obstructive sleep apnea hypopnea is used.
What happens during an apnea?
When we sleep, there is an increased risk for the airway behind the tongue to collapse with each breath (particularly when sleeping on our backs). For most people this collapse does not occur because activation of the muscles surrounding the airway during sleep is still strong enough to prevent any blockage. However, for someone with OSA, the muscles do not respond adequately. Like the paper straw that collapses, the airway collapses and air does not reach the lungs.
What happens when the airway is blocked or partially blocked?
When sufficient air doesn't get into a person's lungs, the level of oxygen in the blood falls and the level of carbon dioxide (a waste product of metabolism) rises. After a few minutes of not breathing, a person may die. Fortunately, with OSA, after a period of not breathing, the brain wakes up, and breathing resumes. This period of time can range from a few seconds to over a minute. When breathing resumes, the size of the airway remains reduced in size. The tissues surrounding this narrow airway vibrate—what we call snoring. In other words, snoring is a sign of an obstructed airway, but it does mean that a person is breathing; silence might indicate that the airway is completely blocked.
What are the effects of apnea?
Because waking up is necessary to end an episode of apnea or hypopnea, a person with OSA wakes up again and again throughout sleep. This reduces the duration and quality of sleep. In most cases, a person with OSA is not aware of these repeated awakenings because they occur below the level of consciousness. As a result, people with OSA frequently complain of daytime sleepiness, fatigue, feeling unfresh. This poor sleep may also cause problems with memory, concentration, and mood changes.
There are other physical effects of apnea. During obstruction, the heart is stressed, which increases blood pressure and heart rate. There is increased secretion of hormones and substances that are released with stress as well as increased production of compounds that produce inflammation.
The most common type of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which can escalate to serious health issues if left untreated. Due to a blocked or floppy airway, your breathing is impeded. When insufficient air reaches your lungs, you are forced to awake in order to restart breathing. This is manifested in the form of loud snorts or choking sounds. When you are unconsciously and repeatedly awakened, you are deprived of quality sleep and can become very sleepy during the day. With sleep apnea, your sleep is not restful because: