Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disorder in which your breathing is repeatedly obstructed or restricted fully or partially for periods of 10 seconds or longer while you sleep. Although millions of people have sleep apnea, most don’t know it because the symptoms happen while they’re sleeping.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the brain sends the signal to the muscles and the muscles make an effort to take a breath, but they are unsuccessful because the airway is blocked and prevents a good flow of air.
Sometimes the bed partner or a family member of a person with sleep apnea will tell them that they snore. While snoring is a good indicator of obstructive sleep apnea, there are other symptoms they should also be aware of.
- Loud or habitual snoring
- Gasping for air
- Pauses in breathing
- Stoppages in breathing
- Tossing and turning
- Tiredness during the day
- Frequent brief arousals
Why sleep apnea is serious
Sleep apnea deprives people of oxygen. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to:
- High blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity and diabetes
- Heart failure
- Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias)
- Extreme fatigue
- Driving or work-related accidents
- Loss of interest in sex
- Decline in mental functioning
What to do
Sleep apnea is potentially dangerous. The only way to determine if you have sleep apnea is to have a sleep study performed by a qualified sleep medicine physician who specializes in sleep disorders.
The sleep study records your brainwaves, breathing patterns, oxygen levels and other bodily functions as you sleep. The sleep medicine physician will read the results of this test, make a diagnosis and offer recommendations. He or she will also be able to recognize if you have a different medical condition.
Talk with your doctor to obtain a referral.
Treatment options for sleep apnea
If the sleep test results show that you have sleep apnea, your sleep medicine physician will determine which treatment is the best option for you:
- CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) therapy, which involves wearing a mask on your face while you sleep—the typical treatment for sleep apnea
- An oral appliance, for patients who cannot tolerate CPAP treatment
At the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center, we work with hundreds of patients every year to determine whether they have sleep apnea or one of the other 100 sleep disorders. Sleep studies require two overnight stays in one of our comfortable at three locations. We also offer home sleep apnea studies and train our patients in how to do these effectively.
Sleep apnea doesn’t go away on its own. But the treatments are highly effective.
Alternatives to CPAP
While CPAP is the most common treatment for OSA, some people find that they cannot tolerate CPAP or prefer an alternative treatment. For those people, we have the highly successful Alternative to CPAP Clinic, which offers evaluations for oral appliance therapy and surgical treatments that would be appropriate for particular patients.
Other types of sleep apnea
There are two other types of sleep apnea: central and mixed. Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when the brain does not send signals to the muscles to take a breath, and there is no muscular effort to take a breath. This type of sleep apnea usually occurs when there are other serious medical conditions that may warrant further evaluation.
Mixed sleep apnea is when an individual has both obstructed sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Take the next steps
- Talk with your doctor
- Read more about obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
- Read about Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
- Read about obstructive sleep apnea surgery
Neeraj Kaplish, M.D., is an Assistant Professor in the U-M Department of Neurology. He received his medical school training at the Rani Durgavati Vishwavidyalaya Medical College and did his neurology residency at the Medical University of Ohio. He also completed fellowships in clinical neurophysiology and sleep medicine at the University of Michigan Health System. He is dedicated to diagnosing, treating and caring for people with a wide range of sleep orders.
For more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health, and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including 18 years on the U.S. News & World Report honor roll of “America’s Best Hospitals.”