What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which pauses in breathing or instances of shallow breathing occur during sleep. Each pause in breathing is called an apnea, and can last for several seconds to several minutes. They may occur 30 times or more per hour. Typically, normal breathing starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound. Each abnormal shallow breathing even is called a hypopnea. When breathing is paused, carbon monoxide builds up in the bloodstream. Sensory extensions in the blood called chemoreceptors notice the high carbon monoxide levels. The brain is then signaled too wake the sleeper and breathe in air. Breathing normally will restore oxygen levels and the person will fall asleep again. The disorder is often diagnosed with an overnight sleep test called a polysomnogram, or “sleep study.” Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. Doctors usually can’t detect the condition during routine office visits. Also, there is no blood test available to help diagnose the condition. A diagnosis often results after a family member or bed partner has noticed the signs of the disorder.