What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder that affects millions and is potentially serious if left untreated. Defined as a cessation of breathing that happens while you sleep, these involuntary pauses in breathing can last from just a few seconds to more than a minute and occur several times an hour. When normal breathing returns, it often causes you to move out of a deep sleep, resulting in poor sleep quality. 

If you suffer from this common sleep disorder, it can have a short- or long-term impact on your quality of life. Drowsiness during daytime hours, forgetfulness, and anxiety are some of the potential short-term concerns, while more serious risks such as obesity, psychiatric issues, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke become possible if it remains untreated.

There are three types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive – The most common form, this occurs when the soft tissue in the throat relaxes and causes an obstruction of the airway. It is commonly caused by obesity and is more prominent in middle-aged or elderly men.
  • Central – This is caused by the brain failing to signal the muscles to breathe and is not the result of an airway blockage. This can sometimes occur at high altitudes.
  • Mixed – This form is a combination of both obstructive and central.

No matter which type of sleep apnea you are suffering from, the good news is there are treatments that can help. Healthy lifestyle choices such as weight loss, quitting smoking, and the elimination of alcohol can often help with obstructive sleep disorders, and breathing assistance machines or mouthpieces can also be effective. Central sleep apnea is often related to other existing conditions such as heart attack or stroke, and often clears as these conditions are treated.

At Tampa General Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center, we offer a comprehensive approach to the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea in adults and children, and we are accredited by the American Academies of Sleep Medicine (AASM).