What Is Sleep Apnea?

By: Seeker

Hey there sleepy heads, Julia here for Dnews. According to the National Sleep Foundation snoring affects 90 million Americans. So you’re probably not the only one sleeping on the couch tonight. When you sleep most of your muscles relax. Including those in your mouth, throat and airways. If these become too relaxed, they can get in the way of your breathing. As you try to suck more air through the narrowed airways, these muscles can vibrate, making sounds like an airplane or lawnmower.

Although it might be annoying to your sleeping buddy, snoring seems mostly harmless. Yet several studies linked the night time malady to some pretty nasty healthy effects. One study published in the journal Laryngoscope, found that snoring might lead to a thickening of the arteries in the heart. Snoring can also lead to headaches and even decline in memory. Not to mention if you wake up your partner, snoring could get you into some relationship trouble. But is your snoring so bad you wake yourself up? You might suffer from sleep apnea.

Half of those 90 million I mentioned earlier might be suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Apnea means literally “without breath”. Like the name suggests, this type of sleep disorder can cause the airways to completely close. Sufferers actually stop breathing when they sleep! This lack of oxygen wakes people up with a snort or gasp. While waking up a bunch of times in the middle of the night leaves you tired the day, Sleep Apnea can also lead to a host of other problems. One large study was published in the journal American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The study found that patients with severe apnea have a 30% higher risk of developing diabetes than those with almost no apnea. And patients with mild or moderate apnea had a 23% increased risk of developing diabetes.

Another study published in the journal Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine surveyed a group of patients for 20 years! The researchers found that, even after controlling for smoking and other lifestyle factors, people with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea were four times more likely to die, nearly four times more likely to have a stroke, three times more likely to die from cancer, and 2.5 times more likely to develop cancer. Lack of oxygen to the brain is never a good thing. One study published in the journal Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism, found that the immediate effects of sleep apnea on the brain were similar to the effects of a stroke! Okay okay, have I scared you enough? Sorry about that.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

So currently one of the best treatments for sleep apnea remains the cumbersome CPAP machine. CPAP stands for "continuous positive airway pressure". Basically, if you can’t guess from that name, the machine creates pressure on your airways so those soft tissues don’t get in the way of your breathing.

The exact pressure depends on the patient and decided by a physician. But you breathe easier and pretty much stop snoring. While the whole get-up includes a face mask, that goes into your nose and over your head, it definitely helps. Some studies published in the journal Sleep found that using a CPAP machine improves blood pressure and even restores brain tissue after a year of use! So while it might be awkward, it could actually add years to your life. So wanna found out if your snoring is dangerous or just dang annoying? Well there’s an app for that, designed by researchers at the University of Washington.

ApneaApp uses sound waves to monitor breathing. The app acts kind of like a bat, emitting sonar to track breathing patterns. According to its makers, the app can detect sleep apnea as well as hospital tests 98% of the time. The app is only designed for use on android phones. Sorry hipsters, you’ll just have to wait.

We talk about sleep a lot on DNews - for instance, did you know anxiety messes with your sleep? Check out this video Amy did.

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