The word apnea means without breath. A person is diagnosed with sleep apnea when their breathing stops during sleep for more than ten seconds, five or more times per hour, accompanied by a drop in blood oxygen level and a disruption of sleep.
An apnea can last anywhere from a few seconds to over a minute. The struggle to breathe will eventually cause the person to momentarily arouse, opening the throat allowing then to breathe again. These arousals are brief and typically not remembered the next morning. More prolonged apneas may cause the sufferer to fully awaken to a frightening feeling of choking. Someone with severe sleep apnea can experience 30 or more events like this each hour.
During each apnea episode, the brain send signals to the body to breathe. These continual interruptions in sleep disrupt the body’s normal sleep cycle preventing the deep, restorative sleep our bodies need.
Some of the short-term consequences of sleep apnea are excessive daytime sleepiness, lack of energy, poor concentration, irritability, slowed reflexes and an increased risk of accidents.
During apnea episodes, the lungs aren’t filling with air and therefore aren’t providing the body with oxygen. This dramatically reduces oxygen levels in the blood which can lead to a variety of physiological changes effecting the blood vessels and heart.
Nothing will cause panic more quickly than not being able to breathe. During these apneas, the heart is stressed, blood pressure and heart rate increase, stress related hormones are released along with an increase in production of compounds that produce inflammation.
Continuously interrupted sleep can result in serious health-related problems. Potential longer-term health issues that may result from untreated sleep apnea include: