This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 03 table of contents.

Sleep Apneas and Snoring

Periods of breathlessness are called apneas. Most people have apneic episodes during sleep. These are periods of time up to several seconds during which they do not breathe. This is normal.

What are sleep apneas, and how can they trouble a sleeper?

For some people, however, the apneic periods are severe enough to be life threatening. Dement described one such person. He suffered apnea-related insomnia for 30 years before being tested in a sleep laboratory.

We could not contain our astonishment when we found that the patient breathed only when he was awake. Watching the chart paper unfold, we stared open-mouthed as the patient fell asleep and stopped breathing for nearly 100 seconds. Then, huge scribbles were inked on the respiration chart as he awoke to take gasping breaths into his air-starved lungs. This patient was unable to breathe and sleep at the same time. He had to wake up hundreds of times in order to get enough oxygen to survive the night. (in Block, 1985, p.47)

What is a universal symptom of sleep apnea?

Over 90% of adult sleep apnea patients are males, usually middle-aged and overweight. Loud snoring or gasping is a universal symptom of the disorder. Alcohol can worsen the condition.

What are the most reliable treatments for obstructive sleep apneas and snoring?

Now that they realize the importance of sleep apneas, doctors are more likely to pay attention to snoring as a severe problem in older men. Why is snoring a problem? Chronic, loud snoring is associated with obstructive sleep apnea, a relaxation of throat tissues that blocks the air passages. A cut-off of oxygen results in abnormal acceleration of the heart rate that could trigger a heart attack in some individuals. Apneas are also suspected of contributing to high blood pressure and fatigue in many individuals. The two most reliable treatments for chronic, serious snoring are (1) sleeping with an air pressure mask strapped to the face, which pressurizes the airways, or (2) having surgery to remove and tighten tissues at the back of the throat, which eliminates the problem in about 50% of cases.


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