Sleep Apnea Facts

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by brief interruptions of
breathing during sleep.

“Apnea” is a Greek word meaning “without breath.” An apnea is clinically
defined as a cessation of breath that lasts at least ten seconds.

“Hypopnea” also comes from Greek: “hypo” meaning “beneath” or
“less than normal” and “pnea” meaning “breath.” A
hypopnea is not a complete cessation of breath but can be defined as a
perceptible reduction in airflow that leads to sleep fragmentation or to a
decrease in the oxygen level in the bloodstream.

The apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) or respiratory disturbance index (RDI) refers to the
total number of apneas and hypopneas divided by the total sleep study in a
patient’s sleep study. The AHI gives one measure of the severity of the sleep

There are three types of apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed (a combination of
obstructive and central). Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common.

Typically the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes the airway,
forcing sufferers of sleep apnea to stop breathing repeatedly during sleep, as
frequently as one hundred times an hour.

Although the typical sleep apnea patient is overweight, male, and over the age of forty,
sleep apnea affects both males and females of all ages and of ideal weight.

The most common symptoms of sleep apnea are loud snoring and excessive daytime
sleepiness (i.e., falling asleep easily and sometimes inappropriately).

Untreated sleep apnea can be life threatening; consequences may include high blood
pressure and other cardiovascular complications.

More than twelve million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and it is estimated
conservatively that ten million remain undiagnosed.

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

Some studies have shown that a family history of sleep apnea increases the risk of
OSA two to four times.

Being overweight is a risk factor for OSA, as is having a large neck. However, not
all with sleep apnea are obese.

Sleep apnea is more likely to occur in men than in women.

Abnormalities of the structure of the upper airway contribute to sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea may be more common among African-Americans, Pacific Islanders, and

Smoking and alcohol use and many sleeping medications increase the risk of sleep apnea.

Treatments for Sleep Apnea

There are a variety of treatments for sleep apnea. The most appropriate treatment
depends on an individual’s medical history and the severity of the disorder.

Nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most common treatment for
sleep apnea. The CPAP machine pushes air through the airway at a pressure high
enough to keep the airway open during sleep.

Treatment regimens may include lifestyle changes such as weight loss, and sleeping
medications, avoiding alcohol, or possibly surgery.

Many patients are appropriate candidates for oral appliance therapy (similar to
retainers) which is quite comfortable and most find preferable to CPAP therapy.
This appliance therapy also follows the recommendations of the American Academy
of the American Academy Sleep Medicine as the primary treatment for mild to
moderate sleep apnea.