leep apnea has recently grown to epidemic levels, especially in western cultures. One theory believes the sudden increase in sleep apnea cases is due to our lifestyle, Another, more probable theory suggests sleep apnea has been with us for a long time and we only recently learned how to detect and diagnose it.
Estimates suggest that 18-20 million adult Americans have sleep apnea. And the stereotypical overweight and middle-aged male male having sleep apnea doesn't hold true. Roughly 8% of women are known to have sleep apnea along with 3% of children. These numbers may be higher given most people are not regularly checked for sleep apnea.
For most people, sleep apnea is related to how they breathe. Let's take a look at how this happens.
Sleep Apnea Overview
Sleep apnea is defined as a stoppage of breathing while sleeping. Apnea is the Greek word for “pause.” There is a cycle that goes with sleep apnea, which typically looks like:
An apnea or pause can last for 10 or more seconds at a time and can occur five or more times per hour. It's not unusual to hear of 30-60 apneas per hour.
There are three forms of sleep apnea which include:
Health Problems Associated with Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can be a very serious condition and should not be ignored. Often oxygen saturation of the body decreases significantly leading to several possible problems including high blood pressure, heart rhythm problems, heart attack and stroke. CPAP machines are often prescribed to prevent apneas and should be used as directed by your doctor.
The Breathing Connection To Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Breathing Connection #1: Snoring is common with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and represents large volumes of air moving through the throat when we inhale and again when we exhale. The movement of large volumes of air through the throat may cause skin in the throat to collapse, blocking airflow to the lungs. This is similar to a straw collapsing as you suck hard on it.
Breathing Connection #2: The science of breathing tells us that breathing large volumes of air, snoring for example, reduces body carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. Low body CO2 levels can lead to problems in the nose, sinuses and throat including dryness, inflammation, swelling and mucus production. Besides nasal congestion, this may result in additional obstructions or the airway including enlarged tonsils, adenoids and nasal polyps.
CO2 plays an important role in keeping mast cells, part of the immune system, from becoming hyperactive and over-dispensing histamines, an inflammatory substance. When breathing is managed and CO2 is retained in the body, the mast cell reduces/stops its histamine production. Higher levels of CO2 usually clear nasal congestion and may with time heal swollen and inflamed throat, sinus and nasal tissue.
The Breathing Connection To Central Sleep Apnea
We learned earlier in this article, that CSA occurs when the medulla stops sending the "breathe" signal to the breathing muscles. Given life is not possible without carbon dioxide (CO2), the medulla shuts down breathing when CO2 levels become alarmingly low, usually the result of big breathing such as snoring or mouth breathing. Once CO2 levels climb back to non-dangerous levels, the medulla sends an all-clear signal to the breathing muscles and they begin breathing again.
Whether it's OSA and CSA, breathing the right amount of air, while maintaining normal levels of carbon dioxide is crucial to managing sleep apnea. It does take time to manage sleep apnea through breath training but the results are typically good. How you breath really matters.