Sonno Sleep Center

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Patient getting fitted for a CPAP sleep mask. Tonythetigersson Tony Andrews Photography.

One of the most common sleep disorders in adults is obstructive sleep apnea, occurring in an estimated one in four individuals over age 60. In this disorder, breathing is impaired or stops for several seconds repeatedly throughout the night. This disrupts the flow of sleep and can result in a variety of problems including daytime sleepiness.

Most people who have obstructive sleep apnea also have a history of loud snoring. Snoring often occurs in individuals with a small or crowded upper airway, which may be more prone to narrowing or closing off briefly during sleep.

Bedpartners of people with apnea may hear loud snoring followed by a pause in breathing, a loud snort or gasp and a resumption of snoring.

People with apnea may experience restless sleep, frequent morning headaches, irritable mood, sexual dysfunction, or unintentional sleep during the day, despite adequate hours of sleep.

The risk for sleep apnea increases with age, and is seen more often in individuals who are overweight or who also have breathing difficulties during the day. It is also more likely to be seen in people who have a small lower jaw, large tonsils and/or a short, thick neck.

To diagnose sleep apnea, a patient needs to be evaluated by an experienced physician and should undergo a study called a polysomnogram, typically done overnight in a sleep laboratory. Patients stay in a special room that allows them to be observed and has equipment to monitor heart rate, brain waves, breathing rhythm, oxygen levels, muscle activity, and eye movement. A sleep physician then reviews this information and helps determine if a sleep disorder is present.

The most effective way to treat sleep apnea is with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) This involves the patient wearing a mask over the nose that blows a small amount of pressurized air, helping keep the upper airway open and eliminating the apnea and snoring. CPAP allows a patient to sleep better and feel more rested when used every night.

Other treatments include weight loss, positional therapy, oral appliance therapy or surgery to alter the structure of the airway.

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