It’s Not Just Snoring: The Dangers of Sleep Apnea

 It’s Not Just Snoring: The Dangers of Sleep Apnea

If you can’t remember the last time you woke up in the morning feeling refreshed, alert, and ready for your day, you’re not alone. About 70 million adults in the United States live with a chronic sleep disorder that sabotages their ability to get the deep, restful sleep they need to clear their minds, restore their bodies, and replenish their energy. 

There’s a close, interconnected relationship between sleep and health: Quality sleep supports good health, while poor sleep leads to diminished health. Sleep apnea has the distinction of being one of the most common — and one of the most health-damaging — sleep disorders. 

At Fivestar Pulmonary Associates in Allen and McKinney, Texas, our team of sleep medicine and pulmonary experts knows that when it comes to minimizing the risks of sleep apnea, prompt diagnosis and treatment are key to safeguarding your long-term health. Here’s what you should know. 

Chronic sleep-disordered breathing

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that repeatedly interrupts your breathing as you sleep. When your brain recognizes a lack of oxygen during these recurrent respiratory pauses, it sends strong signals to restart respiration, triggering a partial awakening in the process. 

Whether these spontaneous respiratory pauses last a few short seconds or longer than a minute, they can happen dozens of times in a single hour. Each partial awakening disrupts your sleep cycle without waking you fully. 

There are three main types of sleep apnea:

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

Most people with sleep apnea have OSA, the type that often (but not always) triggers loud, chronic snoring. OSA occurs when the soft tissues in your airway relax and partially collapse, causing your breathing to pause repeatedly. 

Central sleep apnea (CSA) 

CSA, a less common form of sleep apnea, happens when your brain doesn’t properly signal your airway and chest muscles that control respiration. Because your airway doesn’t partially collapse with CSA, snoring typically isn’t a symptom. 

Complex sleep apnea syndrome

Also far less common than OSA, this form of sleep-disordered breathing occurs when features of both OSA and CSA are present. 

Mental health effects of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea affects tens of millions of people in the United States at any given time, and it often goes undiagnosed for far longer than it should. In fact, up to 30% of American adults have OSA, and many don’t find out about it until it’s already taken a toll on their health.

Early health effects of OSA tend to be mostly mental and emotional. Not getting enough sleep each night means your brain can’t effectively consolidate memories, form new pathways, and wash away toxins that build up during waking hours. This often leads to: 

Besides having several overlapping symptoms, depression and sleep apnea have a strong, bidirectional relationship. Research shows that people with depression are five times more likely to have a breathing-related sleep disorder than people who aren’t depressed. 

Physical health effects of sleep apnea

Sleep-disordered breathing disruptions don’t just leave you feeling tired, groggy, and irritable, they also damage your physical health. Spontaneous breathing pauses cause repeated oxygen level drops that trigger the release of adrenaline, your “fight or flight” stress hormone

When your body is repeatedly deprived of oxygen and then flooded with adrenaline, it can damage your blood vessels and organs, strain your circulatory system, and effectively set the stage for a range of serious health problems, including: 

Given that daytime fatigue and drowsiness are core symptoms of sleep apnea, the disorder carries another major physical health risk: accidents. People with uncontrolled sleep apnea are 2.5 times more likely to cause a car crash than those who are treating the condition.

Sleep apnea treatment solutions

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news: Sleep apnea is a highly treatable condition that can be effectively controlled with the right approach. Most people diagnosed with OSA benefit from a combination of lifestyle changes and interventions, including:  

Positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy is the preferred initial treatment for most people with OSA, usually with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. A CPAP machine keeps your airway open by applying a small amount of positive air pressure through a nasal mask as you sleep.

Remember, OSA treatment is about much more than getting a good night’s rest — it’s about restoring your health and protecting your overall well-being. 

If you have questions about sleep apnea, we have answers. Schedule a visit at Fivestar Pulmonary Associates today by calling our location most convenient to you or requesting an appointment online.

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