Sleep Apnea And What It Means

Sleep Apnea is a common condition that prevents people from achieving restful sleep. In addition, Sleep Apnea is linked with heart disease and a range of other serious health concerns.

Since the quality of your sleep affects your health and biometrics, we decided to share some general information about sleep apnea. This article is for educational purposes and isn’t a substitute for medical care. However, self-awareness and information empower people to make healthy lifestyle choices and to seek medical care.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Basically, Sleep Apnea is a disorder where breathing stops then restarts during sleep. It often occurs results from a blocked upper airway, but sometimes the issue can be a problem with brain signals.

Although it is common, it is also serious as it may result in a decreased flow of oxygen to the body and brain. Sleep Apnea causes breath to be interrupted during sleep.

People who suffer from it may stop breathing multiple times throughout the night.

Three Primary Types Of Sleep Apnea

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): The most common type that  happens when “the muscles in the back of the throat relax too much to allow normal breathing.”
  • Central Sleep Apnea: This mysterious condition happens when the “brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.”
  • Complex Sleep Apnea syndrome: This is when a patient has both types of Sleep Apnea.

Just like there is more than one type, there are multiple potential causes and risk factors. Some risk factors are genetic while others are lifestyle factors.

Common Sleep Apnea Risk Factors

  • Being overweight
  • Having a larger sized neck (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
  • Having larger sized tonsils or tongue
  • Having smaller sized jawbone
  • Narrow airway
  • Being older than 40 years old
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
  • Family history
  • Alcohol or sedative use
  • Smoking

*Sources: WebMD and Mayo Clinic

With such a wide range of risk factors, it isn’t surprising that It is such a common medical condition in the United States. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million American adults suffer from sleep apnea. This may even be a low estimate since it is an underdiagnosed condition.

Do you wake up feeling tired when you should feel refreshed? That happens to be one common symptom. Keep in mind, the following list of symptoms is just for general information.

Signs & Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea:

  • Waking up with a dry throat or mouth
  • Loud snoring that may wake yourself or others in your household
  • Interrupted breathing while sleeping
  • Insomnia
  • Morning headaches
  • Feeling drowsy or very sleepy during the day
  • High blood pressure or heart problems
  • Sleep deprived spouse or partner

*Sources: WebMD and Mayo Clinic

While there is a variance in severity,  the problem is more serious than simply snoring since it may result in decreased oxygen flow to your brain and body. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is connected to heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 Diabetes, fatigue, and other health concerns.

How Sleep Apnea May Affect Your HRV And SpO2

In some cases, Sleep Apnea desaturates oxygen levels, Blood oxygen saturation SPO2 may decrease as a result. This is also why this condition is so serious. Low blood oxygen saturation may prevent your brain and other vital organs from receiving necessary oxygen and nourishment.

Heart rate variability (HRV) may be altered by Sleep Apnea. The effect varies depending on the type of Sleep Apnea involved. Some studies found that Obstructive Sleep Apnea can result in increased absolute high-frequency power while Central Sleep Apnea may result in reduced very low frequency.

This may be confusing as higher HRV is generally associated with good health, while Sleep Apnea is a major risk factor for heart disease. Researcher Matthew T. Naughton, MD, of Alfred Hospital and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia explains: “Heart rate patterns are influenced enormously by breathing patterns,” said Dr. Naughton. “In heart failure patients during sleep, this information might be able to determine the presence or absence and type of Sleep Apnea. ”

How Sleep Apnea is Diagnosed and Treated

If you think you might have sleep apnea, be sure to see your doctor.  Your doctor may recommend that you keep a sleep journal for a couple of weeks to track your sleeping patterns. Your sleep journal may include the following details:

  • Record of your sleep patterns including bedtime and time you work up
  • Your fatigue levels throughout the day and when you wake up
  • Note any symptoms you experience from the list or anything you notice
  • If you have a partner or members or your household, ask whether they hear any sounds like snoring, gasping, or choking during the night. Note anything they notice
  • If you use a sleep tracker like a Biostrap, be sure to note anything the app reports like your heart rate and blood oxygen saturation during sleep

Your physician may refer you to a board-certified sleep medicine physician. Obstructive sleep apnea is often diagnosed with an in-lab sleep study, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. During an in-lab sleep study, the patient sleeps while a polysomnogram records brain waves, heartbeats and breathing. Doctors use this study to help diagnose a range of sleep disorders.

Sometimes a treatment plan may involve lifestyle changes like weight loss or dental devices. Sometimes it may require surgery. One common treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). WebMD describes CPAP as a device that keeps the airways open by blowing air continuously down the wearer’s throat at night. The user wears a mask that is attached to a tube which is connected to a motor that controls the air flow and pressure.

Mild sleep apnea may be improved through lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle Changes That May Mitigate The Effects of Sleep Apnea

The National Sleep Foundation and WebMD offer a few tips that may mitigate mild sleep apnea.

  • If you are overweight, lose weight since higher body weight is a risk factor.
  • Quit smoking if you are a smoker.
  • Avoid alcohol, sedatives, and sleeping pills before bedtime.
  • Try sleeping on your side since some people find that position helps keep their airways more open.
  • Seek treatment for any seasonal allergies, people with allergies may have a harder time breathing during sleep.

If you have symptoms, be sure to discuss it with your primary care medical provider. In many cases lifestyle changes like losing weight or quitting smoking help. In other cases, your doctor may come up with a treatment plan.

Sources And Resources

Sleep Apnea Symptoms, WebMD

Sleep Apnea, Mayo Clinic

Interrelationships Between Body Mass, Oxygen Desaturation, And Apnea-hypopnea Indices In A Sleep Clinic Population” from Sleep by Ling IT, James AL, Hillman DR.

Sleep-related Breathing Disorder Linked To Increased Heart Rate Variability,” Science Daily

How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?” National Sleep Foundation

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