Sleep apnea is a medical condition that affects a large portion of the population, yet many people are unaware that they have it. The National Sleep Foundation reported that up to 20% of the population may suffer from sleep apnea, and 85% of those individuals are unaware of their condition. Central sleep apnea is less common, but more prevalent at higher elevations. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea and occurs when the neck and throat relax during sleep, blocking the flow of oxygen to the lungs.
OSA is more common in men than women, especially overweight middle-aged men. People with OSA may experience frequent awakenings and low oxygen levels. Symptoms such as constant fatigue and tiredness may be more than just a sign of periodic insomnia; they could be indicative of sleep apnea. Poor quality of sleep associated with sleep apnea can have direct effects on work or school performance.
In order to diagnose sleep apnea, a doctor may request a sleep study to assess your movements during sleep, oxygen levels during the night, and if your breathing slows down or stops. Sleep experts measure the severity of sleep apnea based on the number of times a person stops breathing per hour. About 24% of men and 9% of women have symptoms of sleep apnea, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. If someone notices that you occasionally stop breathing, gasp for air, and snore hard while you sleep, it's time to get medical help.
Once you know you have it, you can treat it. Your doctor may recommend wearing a monitor for a single night to get data that will be invaluable in diagnosing and treating your condition. In addition to causing exhaustion, sleep apnea can cause noisy snoring and increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, stroke, heart disease and heart arrhythmias. It's important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea so that you can get the help you need.