Sleep Apnea 101: Definition, Diagnosis, Causes and Treatment

There are millions of people across the world that lose precious sleep each night because of a condition called sleep apnea. Luckily, the disorder is very common, which means its been studied extensively and is very well understood, so those who suffer from it do have a chance for a brighter future when it comes to sleeping well, even if they’ll never be able to get back the past. In order to do this, though, they’ll have to be diagnosed with the condition, as it actually is a very underreported phenomenon that many people don’t even know they have. Many sufferers of sleep apnea regularly go through years of restless sleep without even realizing what their problem is. Once sleep apnea has been properly identified, it can be treated very successfully. Generally speaking, the most widespread form of the condition is called Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and is often completely treatable with a variety of non-invasive and inexpensive methods to use.

Sleep Apnea

What Exactly is It?

Obstructive sleep apnea is most often apparent when it comes to a sleeper’s breath. In regular sleep, it’s normal for a sleeper to take deep breaths at regular intervals. OSA comes in and disrupts this, causing the afflicted person to breathe very shallowly or even completely halt on occasion. This happens because the airway becomes partially obstructed or even totally blocked, and the more it happens, the worse each sleep disruption will become. It’s very common for apnea to even completely stop someone from breathing a good 10 to 20 seconds while they’re asleep and can occur numerous times, one right after the other, for up to and past 30 times an hour. Whenever your body realizes it’s not breathing correctly, it’ll attempt to correct itself by bringing the person out of their necessary and deeper levels of sleep, but will rarely completely wake up the sleeper. This deeper level of sleep is what’s actually needed in order to feel completely refreshed and fully rested the following day.

What Causes This Condition?

There are a variety of reasons why obstructive sleep apnea occurs, and not every single one of them will affect all people in the same way. It can even be caused by a certain combination of common factors. For physical symptoms, there are things such as large tonsils, receding chins, deviated septum, or high body weight that can lead to a temporary blockage in a person’s throat. These blockages often aren’t even felt when the person is awake, as a person’s body will keep their throat open naturally when it’s up and will only truly relax them once they’re asleep. Aside from physical occurrences, other causes can come from the following:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Allergies
  • Sedatives
  • Alcohol
  • Sleep pills
  • Old age
  • Smoking


How is OSR Diagnosed?

Seeing the signs of OSR can be very difficult at first. It’s generally noticed first by someone who sleeps with the afflicted party, as the condition is generally marked by irregular snorting or snoring. Some common situations occur when a person notices their partner has a tendency to snore when they’re lying in a certain way or if they hear a pause in breathing and then a choking sound. For those without a sleeping partner, there are a variety of other signs to watch out for:

  • Tongues or cheeks that have been bitten during sleep
  • Dry mouth in the morning
  • Recurring nightly wakefulness
  • Irritability
  • Regular fatigue
  • Headaches


For confirmation, a person would need to visit a center to have a sleep study. These monitoring sessions will record a number of different things, which include:

  • What positions tend to cause the apnea
  • When the occurrences happen during the person’s sleep cycle
  • What type of sleep apnea a person has
  • How long the person actually stops breathing
  • How many times they quit breathing


How to Treat Sleep Apnea

While sleep apnea can be a serious condition, luckily, there are several non-invasive methods a person can take in order to rectify any underlying problems that would have caused it. A doctor may advise any of the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Changing sleep positions
  • Nasal decongestants
  • To quit smoking
  • A mouth guard. These reposition the jaw and tongue to prevent restriction


If none of these options work, there are other treatments, such as a continuous positive airflow pressure (CPAP) mask that regularly pushes air through the sleeper’s throat. If that doesn’t work, there is also surgery, such as the removal of the tonsils or rhinoplasty. These final sleep apnea treatments are seen as a last resort and should only be undertaken if other methods have been unsuccessful.