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Man sleeping in his bed and snoring loudly

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea repeatedly stop breathing during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. This means the brain — and the rest of the body — may not get enough oxygen. There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax, and central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.


Obstructive sleep apnea happens due to the partial or complete blockage of the airways during sleep. This blockage happens when the muscles in the back of the throat, which support structures such as the soft palate, uvula, tonsils, and tongue, relax excessively. When these muscles relax, the airway narrows or closes as one inhales, leading to a breathing pause that can lower the level of oxygen in the blood. The brain senses this inability to breathe and briefly rouses one from sleep to reopen the airway, usually with a snort or a choking sound. This pattern can repeat itself five to 30 times or more each hour, all night, impairing one’s ability to reach the deep, restful phases of sleep.


Central sleep apnea is less common and occurs when the brain fails to transmit signals to the breathing muscles during sleep. It's not caused by a blocked airway, but rather the brain's failure to signal the muscles to breathe. This type of sleep apnea can occur with conditions such as heart failure and stroke. It's also more prevalent in individuals taking certain medications or living at high altitudes.


Symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, episodes of stopped breathing witnessed by another person, abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping or choking, morning headache, daytime sleepiness, attention problems, and irritability. It's important to note that not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.


Untreated sleep apnea can have serious health consequences. It can increase the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and heart failure. Sleep apnea can also lead to poor performance in everyday activities, such as work and school, and increase the likelihood of having work-related or driving accidents.


Diagnosis of sleep apnea at a specialized center like Sonoran Sleep Center involves an evaluation based on signs and symptoms and a sleep history, which can be provided by a patient or a family member. A definitive diagnosis of sleep apnea requires a sleep study, known as a polysomnogram, which can be conducted in a sleep lab or at home with a portable device. The test records various body functions during sleep, including electrical activity of the brain, eye movement, muscle activity, heart rate, respiratory effort, air flow, and blood oxygen levels.


Treatment for sleep apnea is highly individualized and may include lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and exercise. The most common treatment is the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, which blow air into the throat to keep the airway open. Other treatments include the use of dental devices, implantable devices, and sometimes surgery, depending on the severity of the condition and the patient's overall health.


At Sonoran Sleep Center, our team of specialists is dedicated to providing comprehensive care for sleep apnea, helping patients to understand their condition, navigate their treatment options, and achieve restful, healthy sleep. Our goal is to improve not just nighttime rest but also overall health and quality of life for our patients.

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