Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing or instances of abnormally low breathing, during sleep. Each pause in breathing, called an apnea, can last from a few seconds to minutes, and may occur 5 to 30 times or more an hour. Similarly, each abnormally low breathing event is called ahypopnea. Sleep apnea is diagnosed with an overnight sleep test called a polysomnogram, or "sleep study".

There are three forms of sleep apnea: central (CSA), obstructive (OSA), and complex or mixed sleep apnea (i.e. a combination of central and obstructive) constituting 0.4%, 84% and 15% of cases respectively. In CSA, breathing is interrupted by a lack of respiratory effort; in OSA, breathing is interrupted by a physical block to airflow despite respiratory effort, and snoring is common.

Regardless of type, an individual with sleep apnea is 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 (sequelae). Symptoms may be present for years (or 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.

Sleep apnea affects not only adults but some children as well. "Patients complain about excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) and impaired alertness". In other words, common effects of sleep apnea include daytime fatigue, a slower reaction time, and vision problems. Moreover, patients are examined using "standard test batteries" in order to further identify parts of the brain that are affected by sleep apnea. Tests have shown that certain parts of the brain cause different effects. The "executive functioning" part of the brain affects the way the patient plans and initiates tasks. Second, the part of the brain that deals with attention causes difficulty in paying attention, working effectively and processing information when in a waking state. Thirdly, the part of the brain that uses memory and learning is also affected. Due to the disruption in daytime cognitive state, behavioral effects are also present. There is also increasing evidence that sleep apnea may also lead to liver function impairment, particularly fatty liver diseases. This includes moodiness, belligerence, as well as a decrease in attentiveness and drive. Another symptom of Sleep Apnea is Sleep Paralysis. In severe cases, the fear of sleep due to sleep paralysis can lead to Insomnia . These effects become very hard to deal with, thus the development of depression may transpire. Finally, because there are many factors that could lead to some of the effects previously listed, some patients are not aware that they suffer from sleep apnea and are either misdiagnosed, or just ignore the symptoms altogether.