Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), is the most common form of the sleep disorder. An estimated twelve million Americans are affected each year, and over 50% are prone to loud snoring and are overweight or obese. For reasons unknown, OSA is more common in males than females and in people who have large as opposed to medium or small neck measurements.


In obstructive sleep apnea a persons airways are blocked during the night, therefore breathing ceases. After from a few seconds to ten seconds, regular breathing patterns usually come back, but there are cases where it takes fifty to sixty seconds for normal patterns to resume.

The longer the period of breathe stopage there is, the more serious the case. Obstructive sleep apnea is most likely to occur for those individuals who are prone to snoring, drink liquor, need to lose weight and those who have one form or another of an anatomical abnormality afflicting their soft palate or jaw. There are times however when a person who doesnt fit any of the above criteria still develops obstructive sleep apnea.

OSA Causes

Muscles in the airways relaxing excessively while a person sleeps at night is the cause of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In many cases of OSA there is a “severe narrowing or occlusion of the pharynx” that seriously obstructs or completely stops breathing all together.

This causes an excessive amount of carbon dioxide to develop and once the brain becomes aware of it, airway muscles are activated which open the airway, allowing breathing to resume. However, this interrupts any deep sleep at that time.

Diagnosis of OSA

Obstructive sleep apnea develops as a result of constant episodes of airway obstruction during sleep. Approximately two percent of women and four percent of men who suffer from sleep apnea meet what is deemed as the diagnostic criteria for the sleep disorder, which averages an estimated ten bouts of apnea or what is referred to as “apneic events” in the course of an hour.

An apneic event can be either an apnea, distinguished by a total cessation of airflow of at least ten seconds, or a hypopnea in which airflow decreases by fifty percent for ten seconds, or decreases by thirty percent when there is an associated decrease in oxygen saturation or waking from sleep.

The Apnea-Hypopnea Index

Sleep apnea is gives grades or levels by sleep researchers; this is calculated by the number of apneic events that take place every hour. This is known as the “apnea-hypopnea index” (or AHI). The normal level of an AHI is less than five, while one that lies somewhere between five to fifteen is mild. A moderate AHI would be fifteen to thirty. The highest level or most severe is thirty or more apneic events per hour.

Extreme tiredness during the daytime is one of the most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. A person suffering from this sleep problem can experience any number of other symptoms.

These symptoms include drifting off to sleep during the busy workday, headaches in the A.M., irritability, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating on tasks, weight gain, behavioral changes and/or changes in mood, a tendency to forget easily and an increase in a persons heart rate. Other symptoms can include a desire to urinate often and nocturnal enuresis (Uncontrolled or involuntary discharge of urine).

See Also:

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea