Sleep Apnea – Nightmares Without Oxygen

I know the term is self explanatory but in actual it has more devastating effects on health than usually thought upon by people. Most people take snoring as a mild symptom and avoid any type of consultation with doctors. However it should be known that snoring is the earliest manifestation of sleep disordered breathing. Sleep disordered breathing refers to a state in which the person has difficulty in maintaining a sound sleep throughout the night. This may happen due to multiple reasons but most cases remain under-reported as the condition is not properly diagnosed.

Sleep Apnea – Nightmares Without Oxygen
By: Laura Lewis

Sleep disordered breathing is one of the biggest reason of pre-mature heart conditions in individuals today, and a number of research studies have developed a correlation of sleep disordered breathing with intellectual impairment and cognitive decline (also called decrease in intellectual thinking and intelligence). Technically, sleep apnea is a condition in which person stop breathing for at least a few seconds during deep sleep stages. Since the breathing cessation is for just a few seconds, it does not lead to death or any serious immediate side effects.

Mechanics of Sleep disordered breathing:

Breathing is the most important mechanism that aims to provide oxygen to all cells of the body. However, the pattern of breathing changes when we go to sleep, i.e. breathing becomes deeper and the rate of breathing decreases. In a normal person this changing rate of breathing does not alter the oxygen content of the blood or does not decrease oxygen availability to body cells. But in some people, oxygen saturation or oxygen content of the blood is not maintained during sleeping because of sleep disordered breathing. The persistent low levels of oxygen not only damage brain substance but also lead to formation of a reactive oxygen species that leads to further brain damage, resulting in diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, pre-mature dementia and other behavioral issues.

Causes of sleep disordered breathing:

During sleep disordered breathing the rate and pace of breathing is greatly affected to an extent that oxygen levels drop in blood. In a person, who is wide awake, decreasing rate of breathing is not significant as the voluntary efforts by the individual bring the oxygen level back to normal. On the other hand, a person who is sleeping might not sense this drop in oxygen saturation and thus sustained decrease in oxygen content affects the functioning of our brain. The causes of sleep apnea greatly vary from race, age and gender of the person.

Some common causes of sleep disordered breathing are:

Old age:

In elderly population, the muscles are all lax and relaxed, not just of the body musculature, but also of internal organs and viscera. The respiratory muscles also loses their tone and during sleep, due to increased intra abdominal pressure that further presses upon lungs; muscles of air passages in the body get further relaxed and narrowed. This collapse of airways decreases oxygen supply by depressing the rate of breathing. Moreover, most individuals also develop different medical issues that further affect the quality of sleep and interference with the diagnosis of sleep apnea in most cases until the disease is in advanced stages.


Obesity alone is the most common preventable cause of a number of diseases that include hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Obese people face sleep disordered breathing more than an average weight person as obese people tend to have collapsed airways in a lying position. In addition, overweight folks have fat pads that press upon lungs and further collapse air ways and leave little space for gaseous exchange.

Enlarged Tonsils or adenoids:

Tonsils, enlarged adenoids, nasal septal defects, sinus issues or any other medical condition that affects upper respiratory passages leads to sleep disordered breathing or sleep apnea. These conditions affect the patency of upper respiratory passage ways and in turn lead to difficulty in breathing, further enhancing sleep apnea. This is generally a more common cause in younger individuals but can also lead to symptomatic sleep apnea in older individuals.

How to identify sleep disordered breathing (SDB):

The next important step is to identify sleep disordered breathing in an asymptomatic individual, which is not difficult at all. There are a few sign and symptoms that will help you to identify if anyone is suffering from Sleep Disordered Breathing. These are;

A. Snoring:  if any of your family member snores loudly, he may be suffering from SDB. The mechanism is simple, if air is forced to push against a closed space, it produces a noise, we hear as a snore.

B. Pauses in breathing: Let alone, pauses in breathing are a significant risk factor for sudden death syndrome. If you have noticed anyone in your family who stops breathing, for a few seconds while sleeping, you should get his sleep studies done.

Some additional signs and symptoms are frequent awakenings at night, waking up with a dry mouth, increasing irritability and day time sleepiness

How to sleep restfully with sleep disorder breathing?

In order to sleep restfully throughout the night, you should avoid drinking too much alcohol in the evening or at night time. This might sound like a debatable issue as alcohol is believed to induce sleep. However, alcohol depresses urinary hormone and thus increases urination. Obviously if you are going to the bathroom every now and then, your sleep will definitely be disturbed.

Same is true for caffeine and other caffeine containing beverages. Caffeine is a nervous stimulant that keeps you awake and decreases the induction of sleep and further enhances the sleep apnea. Take a warm bath before going to bed. This is again a debatable topic, as most people think bathing will help you to stay awake; however it is a proven fact that warm baths induce sleep.

Do not take frequent naps during the course of the day. Inappropriate duration and timing of naps are a major cause of late induction of sleep and must be properly taken care in order to avoid issues with sleep.