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Sleep Apnea

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common condition characterized by a periodic reduction in or a complete stop of breathing during sleep. There are two main types of sleep apnea; obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA). Mixed sleep apnea refers to the combination of both central and obstructive sleep apnea.

Apnea is defined as a cessation or near-cessation of breathing for 10 seconds or more that results in a reduction of airflow to 90% below normal. A less severe reduction in breathing is called hypopnea.

The basic underlying mechanism is different for the types of sleep apnea. Normally, the brain sends a signal to the respiratory muscles to expand and bring air into the lungs. In central sleep apnea, the brain fails to send this signal, causing disrupted and unregulated breathing. In obstructive sleep apnea, the brain sends appropriate signals and the muscles try to expand to initiate breathing, however, the flow of air into the lungs is obstructed, causing reduced breathing and airflow into the lungs.

In general, sleep apnea is less common in children. It becomes more prevalent with increasing age and it is more common in men than women. Obstructive sleep apnea is more common than central sleep apnea. These conditions remain somewhat under-diagnosed in the general population.

Sleep apnea may lead to:

  • disrupted sleep,
  • daytime sleepiness, and
  • insomnia.

If untreated, sleep apnea may contribute to other medical conditions, such as: 

In children, it may contribute to increased hyperactivity and difficulty with concentrating in school.

Last Reviewed 11/20/2017

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