Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep. Each pause can last for a few seconds to a few minutes, numerous times a night. There may be a choking or snoring sound as breathing resumes. The disorder disrupts normal sleep and sleep patterns.
During sleep, a person’s tongue falls back against his or her soft palate, and the soft palate and uvula fall back against the back of the throat, blocking or closing the airway. When the sleeper expands the chest to inhale, no air enters the lungs. The condition develops more frequently among people who sleep on their back, are middle-aged, are overweight, are smokers, and are male. However, sleep apnea can affect both sexes and patients of all ages, body types, and favored sleeping positions.
Left untreated, sleep apnea is a serious matter. In many cases it leads to debilitating daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, depression, impaired alertness and focusing, and a general sense of unwellness. Over time, it gives rise to high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and other life-threatening diseases.