Sleep Apnea: When you stop breathing while sleeping

Sleep apnea involves arrested breathing when one is asleep. People affected by this condition stop breathing for a few seconds or minutes at some point during the night. This leads to restlessness, headaches, loud snoring, and worse, memory deficiency.


We might take the blessing of breathing oh-so-easily, but, when the whole process faces little ‘glitches’ in the system do we realise the importance of the coordination of all the mechanisms behind the ‘simple’ process. Sleep apnea is caused by malfunctioning of muscles, or by problems occurring at the level of the brain. Either one leads to the throat not opening up in synchrony with the expanding lungs. Arrested breathing then leads to a decrease in oxygen and the blood is deprived from its usual oxygen supply.

The throat shuts when it should remain open to allow for air to get into the air pathways to reach the lungs. As this proceeds, less and less air is pushed into the pipes, till the throat closes completely. The whole body feels the lack of oxygen at this point. As oxygen is not reaching the body cells, the brain triggers an alarm system which leads to the person waking up so that the air passage can be made to come back to life again. This results in frequently waking up at night because of the problem of sleep apnea.

Another type of sleep apnea starts at the brain. It somehow stops regulating the automatic muscle movements that contribute to the process of breathing; these muscles are known to cause the lungs to expand. Muscle movements involved in heartbeats are also affected. Neurones do not transmit the message to the throat and lungs such that the person momentarily stops breathing.

As a result, people suffering from sleep apnea are tired and irritable since they do enjoy adequate sleep.

Sleep apnea can also lead to complications like high blood pressure and increased stroke risk. When the blood is deprived of oxygen, it is ultimately the heart that suffers and it pumps harder in attempts to distributing the limited oxygen to the organs in need of the gas.

Patients might have to go through surgery to remove throat tissue or tonsils to prevent having the condition. Otherwise, the person’s breathing can be supported by an air pressure machine that keeps the airways open. Medical experts have also advised patients to abstain from alcohol consumption, and to sleep on the side. Patients might also need to lose weight.

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