Sleep Apnea – The Buzz on Catching Some Healthy Z’s

Doctor Q&A

Search YouTube for snoring videos and you’ll find thousands, from Mickey Mouse to Shaquille O’Neal, to people posting videos of their friends for a good laugh. In actuality, though, snoring and the sleep apnea that may come with it is no laughing matter.

Twenty-two million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, a serious condition that can affect your long-term health.  And that number is on the rise.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to:

  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Cardiac events
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Poor quality of life
  • Uncontrolled diabetes

What is Sleep Apnea?

Normally during sleep, air moves through your airway and lungs at a regular rhythm. In a person with sleep apnea, airflow is periodically diminished or stopped. 

There are two types of sleep apnea:

  • Central sleep apnea - breathing is abnormal because of a change in breathing control and rhythm
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) - breathing is abnormal because of narrowing or closure of the throat or airways

Basically, sleep apnea is like suffocating with your own tongue and pharyngeal tissues during sleep. The tissue in the back of the mouth and pharynx collapses on itself, leading to a narrowing of your airway.

In order to recover, you wake up suddenly, often snoring, snorting or gasping for air. This can happen hundreds of times per night.  Most patients fall back to sleep immediately and have no recollection of it.

Although your memory often forgets these apnea events, certainly almost all your vital organs are affected adversely and the long-term consequences are not forgettable.

OSA, the most common of all sleep disorders, is often characterized by a completely blocked airway. This obstruction reduces oxygen to dangerous levels that can trigger the release of stress hormones and cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, and virtually affects almost every cell in your body.

Am I at Risk for Sleep Apnea?

One simple and proven screening tool for OSA in adults is called the STOP-BANG SLEEP APNEA RISK QUESTIONNAIRE:

STOP - BANG Sleep Apnea Screening Tool

Answer with a YES or NO:
  • S - Do you SNORE loudly (loud enough to be heard through closed doors, or to be elbowed by your bed partner as you sleep)?
  • T - Do you often feel TIRED, fatigued or sleepy during the daytime (such as falling asleep during driving or talking to someone)?
  • O - Has anyone OBSERVED you stop breathing or choking/gasping during your sleep?
  • P - Do you have, or are you being treated for, high blood PRESSURE?
  • B - Is your BMI (Body Mass Index) more than 35?
  • A - Is your AGE over 50 years old?
  • N - NECK circumference, including Adam’s apple - Is your shirt collar size 17” or greater (male)? Is your shirt collar size 16” or greater (female)?
  • G - GENDER – Are you a male?
Scoring for General Population
Yes to 0 - 2 questions = Low Risk
Yes to 3 - 4 questions = Intermediate Risk
Yes to 5 - 8 questions = High Risk

Other symptoms and risk factors of sleep apnea include:

  • Restless sleep
  • Morning headaches / dry mouth 
  • Difficulty concentrating / memory impairment
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Anatomical causes
  • Sedation from medication or alcohol
  • Untreated hypothyroidism
  • Polycystic ovarian disease

Note** If you don’t have a spouse or bed partner, you may underestimate or be unaware of how often your sleep is disrupted. Seek medical advice if you suspect any of the above applies to you.

How is sleep apnea treated?

The goal of treatment is to maintain an open airway during sleep. Several methods have proven effective:

  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) or Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) devices keep the airway open during sleep by delivering air pressure through an air-tight mask.
  • Dental appliances bring the tongue and soft palate forward, decreasing snoring.
  • Surgical treatments, used when other treatments fail, reshape or reposition bone or soft tissue in the upper airway. 
  • Avoiding alcohol and other sedatives is recommended.
  • Losing weight is a low-cost, high-reward form of treatment.

Where can I go for help?

Sleep apnea is best diagnosed and treated by a knowledgeable sleep medicine specialist.

The diagnosis is usually based on your medical history, physical examination and results of a full sleep study, called a polysomnogram. 

The polysomnogram measures breathing effort and airflow, blood oxygen level, heart rate and rhythm, duration of the various stages of sleep, body position and movement of the extremities. It is usually performed in a specialized sleep laboratory.

For information on being evaluated, call (913) 632-9770, or visit AdventHealth Medical Group Pulmonology.

Need a primary care doctor? Take a quick survey to be matched with the right primary care doctor for you.

For more information on sleep apnea, visit theAmerican Sleep Apnea Association.