sleep apnea concerns

Why you Should be Concerned about your Sleep Apnea

Kingston TN

“Apnea” comes from the Greek word for “no breath”. Sleep apnea, therefore, is a condition in which breathing is reduced – and sometimes paused – while sleeping, resulting in the body having to wake briefly to restore respiration.

Types of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea comes in three forms:

Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type and occurs when airway muscles relax during sleep and block the airway. While anyone can develop obstructive sleep apnea, it is more likely to develop as a person ages. For those younger than 50, it is more common in men, boys, and those designated as male at birth, it is more likely to occur in people of African-American, Hispanic, or Asian descent, and it is far more likely to be found in those who are overweight.

Central sleep apnea

Far less common is central sleep apnea, which happens when the brain fails to tell the muscles to breathe. This is usually the result of an injury, an event like a stroke, or the use of opioids for pain management. It has been estimated to occur in only one percent of the American population.

Complex sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea should be taken seriously because it can have several detrimental effects on a sufferer’s overall health and well-being.

Poor sleep

Waking because of sleep apnea usually lasts only seconds, and it may not result in complete consciousness. It is still, however, very disruptive to sleep. In fact, sleep apnea can cause the same consequences as sleep deprivation, even when someone has enjoyed seven or more hours of sleep.

Sleep deprivation can cause:

  • Fatigue, exhaustion, and a feeling of sleepiness
  • Reduced ability to concentrate
  • Increased forgetfulness
  • Increased tendency for mood swings, especially irritability and frustration
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Reduced motivation
  • Increased chance of sickness

Sleep deprivation has unpleasant consequences, ranging from mildly distressing (falling asleep during a movie, inability to remember a password, snapping at a loved one) to downright dangerous (falling asleep while driving, forgetting to take medicine).

Other health consequences

Inadequate sleep causes forgetfulness. This can have consequences such as inadvertently skipping medications, which could potentially worsen serious health conditions. It can also reduce motivation to exercise.

Sleep apnea can cause a condition called hypoxia, which is a reduced amount of oxygen in the bloodstream.

Hypoxia is indicated in the worsening of several potentially life-threatening conditions, such as:


Sleep apnea can make managing diabetes more challenging, largely because sleep-apnea-induced hypoxia can make adipose more resistant to insulin and, thus, to a subsequent intolerance for glucose. This, in turn, can result in ketoacidosis, which usually requires hospitalization.

Moreover, the cognitive effects of poor sleep from sleep apnea can have indirect effects on managing diabetes. Inadequate sleep reduces motivation to exercise and to plan meals in advance. It also leads to poor decision-making, increasing the likelihood of a person choosing junk food over healthier options.


Studies published in the last few years indicate that sleep apnea also carries with it an increased risk – up to 30 percent higher – for certain kinds of cancers, and it leads to increased tumor growth for cancers that are already present. It is believed that hypoxia is largely responsible for both.

High blood pressure

Doctors have long noted the increased risk of hypertension in people with sleep apnea. The culprit again appears to be hypoxia: since oxygen is carried in the blood, lack of air sends a signal to the brain that blood needs to be circulated at a greater rate. This causes increased blood pressure, and the elevated pressure may persist in waking hours.

In addition, sleep apnea can lead to other, milder (but nevertheless significant) conditions, such as:

Morning headaches

Though the precise cause of these is unknown and could vary, many with sleep apnea report headaches upon waking.

Bruxism (teeth grinding)

People who have sleep apnea (especially obstructive sleep apnea) are also much more prone to teeth-grinding; as many as 55 percent of those with sleep apnea will also grind their teeth. Scientists are uncertain whether this is a correlation or whether one causes the other. However, at least one theory is that the arousal from sleep to restore breathing may cause jaw movement and grinding.

Since bruxism is a well-known source of headaches, it may be that teeth-grinding causes the morning headaches reported by many people with sleep apnea.

Diagnosing and treating sleep apnea

Diagnosis of sleep apnea usually begins with a visit to a physician, who will recommend a sleep study. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, a variety of methods may be used to treat the condition: lifestyle changes, an oral appliance, a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, and surgery are all potential treatment options. If sleep apnea is suspected, it’s in everyone’s best interest – the sufferers’ and those who live and work with them – for it to be ruled out or diagnosed and treated. This will lead to great improvements in health and quality of life.

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