What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes a person to stop breathing many times while they are sleeping. The breathing pauses may last a few seconds or longer and trigger the body to switch from non-REM stage IV sleep to the very light stage I sleep; occasionally the patient may wake up. These multiple interruptions of the normal sleep cycle can lead to insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Many people have this problem but do not realize it.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Symptoms of sleep apnea are often noted by the patient's spouse. The symptoms are snoring, pauses in breathing often followed by a gasp or snort sound, and sleepiness during daytime hours.

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Sleep apnea can be treated in various ways.

  • Lifestyle changes (losing weight, avoiding alcohol, sleeping on one's side instead of back, quit smoking)
  • Mouthpieces (oral appliances)
  • Breathing devices (CPAP)
  • Surgery
Who Gets Sleep Apnea?

The common risk factors for sleep apnea include being overweight, over age 65, male, Hispanic etc. Also, individuals who smoke, use alcohol, sedatives and/or tranquilizers, and individuals with nasal congestion, heart disorders, strokes, or brain tumors are also at higher risk for sleep apnea. Occasionally, individuals who have some blockage of their airway (for example, enlarged tonsils or narrowed airway) are also at risk of developing sleep apnea.

What Is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that causes extreme sleepiness during the day; some patients experience intermittent and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during any type of activity.

Narcolepsy Symptoms
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Cataplexy (sudden loss of muscle tone)
  • Hallucinations
  • Sleep paralysis (a temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or waking up) that lasts a few seconds up to several minutes after which the person fully recovers.
Narcolepsy Treatment
  • Lifestyle changes (practice good sleep hygiene, limit caffeine, tobacco and alcohol, exercise, get more sunlight, schedule naps, keep a to-do list and stay organized)
  • Medications (stimulants, antidepressants, sodium oxibate)
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