What is sleep apnea?

It is one of the medical problems that can sometimes cause insomnia. A person with sleep apnea may think that the only problem he has is insomnia when in fact insomnia is only a symptom of the main medical problem of sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is the repeated stopping of breathing during the night while sleeping. A person who lives alone will probably not know that this is occurring. But if they have anyone sleeping with them, this other person will probably notice the recurrent stopping of breathing which is then followed by gasping to breathe. This is called apnea and every time this occurs during the night, the normal sleep cycle is disturbed and this is what causes the insomnia symptoms.

Anyone suffering with sleep apnea, wake up before they go thru a sufficient amount of stage 3 and stage 4 non-REM or delta sleep. It is during these stages of deep sleep when the muscle tissues, brain, cardiovascular as well as the hormone system — repair themselves from the damage that has happened while awake during the day.

When insomnia occurs continually night after night for over two weeks is when many symptoms can develop – being sleepy during the day, waking up feeling unrested, falling asleep while driving or at work. The longer insomnia occurs, the worst these symptoms become. A person can even begin experiencing problems with memory, depression and learning difficulties.

If this insomnia is actually caused by sleep apnea, symptoms can continue to get worse. The person suffering with sleep apnea can actually develop personality changes, extremely loud snoring, sweating during the night, swift weight gain, and often waking up with a headache. A person experiencing these symptoms or having insomnia for over two weeks, it is extremely important that they visit with their primary care physician for a complete medical checkup.

This does not mean that everyone who snores at night has sleep apnea. And even through overweight people most often have sleep apnea, thin people can have it also. People with sleep apnea often don’t realize they have it, but they will eventually notice the physical symptoms of having this sleep problem.

Other problems that the doctor will often notice is the person may have or be bordering on high blood pressure and could also have developed heart trouble, or diabetes. The doctor may even send the patient to a sleep center where their sleep will be monitored for a night. These sleep studies will show how many times a night a person stops breathing. Those with sleep apnea which is severe may often stop breathing hundreds of times a night. This stopping can be for a few seconds to as long as ten minutes in really severe cases. Your doctor will take the results of these studies and be able to diagnose true sleep apnea or decide if your insomnia is caused by another health problem.

In most cases, the patient with only a slight case of sleep apnea can be helped by a natural sleep aid or by treating the underlying medical problem. But in other cases some lifestyle changes may need to be made – such as stopping smoking, exercising more, or losing weight. If the sleep apnea is severe, and is causing severe health problems, the doctor will need to treat the sleep apnea as well as any medical problems the apnea has caused. In severe cases where the apnea is caused by airway obstruction, there are several treatments; including a device that can be used at night, as well as sleep apnea surgery to remove or reduce any obstructions.

When sleep apnea is left undiagnosed or untreated, the odds of strokes, heart attacks or high blood pressure increase as well as the odds of developing diabetes, increased risk of injuries caused at work or accidents while driving. Therefore it is most important that anyone who has long term chronic insomnia be checked by their doctor as quickly as possible.