Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) occurs during sleep when the muscles in the jaw, tongue and neck relax causing a blockage. This stops air from entering the lungs and then a decrease in the body’s oxygen levels. The body’s receptors will sense the change in oxygen and signal for the body to breathe.
Throughout the night this blockage continuously occurs and episodes can last anywhere from a few seconds to well over a minute until the sleeper arouses from sleep returning muscle tone to clear the airway. Often a sleeper waking from this process will experience a choking or gasping feeling. These events can occur hundreds of times a night an leave the sleeper waking with an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion.
These episodes can occur during the normal course of sleep with many people experiencing multiple episodes per night, even if they do not have sleep Apnea. Less than 5 of these events per hour is deemed as normal, 5 to 15 per hour being mild OSA, 15 to 30 being moderate OSA and 30 and above being severe OSA.
On most occasions, the sleeper suffering from these episodes will be awoken from a deep sleep for a short period of time, however often not enough to fully awaken them to a conscious level. For this reason, OSA can often go undiagnosed. The sleeper may awaken in the morning feeling drowsy or tired and this feeling will not alleviate throughout the day, however they may not make the connection between the tiredness and a poor quality of sleep.
Short term issues and long term issues can arise from untreated OSA as mental ability can be impaired and has been attributed to many accidents, including motor vehicles and workplace incidents. Sleep Apnea left undiagnosed or untreated can lead to a number of life threatening conditions.