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Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious, potentially life-altering health issue that may lead to life-threatening conditions. People with this disorder stop breathing for 10 seconds or more (sometimes up to 30 seconds) at a time during sleep. An episode like this can occur up to 400 times every night, usually waking the person having them - or their partner. This leads both people to have interupted bouts of sleep (falling from deep sleep to light sleep and intermittent waking) - resulting in not getting enough rest.

Sometimes the person having the breathing interuptions will not remember waking throughout the night, but may notice sleepiness during the day - or the feeling that he just cannot get enough sleep.

It is estimated that 5 to 10 percent of adults in the US have OSA, approximating 20 million people. Of these, 85 to 90 percent have not been identified. Sleep apnea can affect persons of any age; however, it has been found to be more common among those who are 40 years of age or older.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The most common form of sleep apea (affecting 90% sleep apnea patients), this is caused when there is a blockage to the air coming into your body; therefore, restricting the proper amount of oxygen the person needs to get into the lungs. This obstruction can be one of many things - a tongue, tonsils, extra fatty throat tissue, relaxed throat muscles or the uvula (the small piece of flesh that hangs down in the back of your throat).

Beyond creating sleep disruptions, OSA has been associated wiht an increased risk of hypertension, heart failure, stroke, atrial fibrillation, diabetes and other conditions. For these reasons, it is important to properly identify and successfully treat patients with obstructive sleep apnea.

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Causes & Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

When you have obstructive sleep apnea, it is caused by the collapsing of the throat during sleep, which in turn blocks your airway and prevents air from getting into the lungs.

Normal Breathing

Airway is open Air flows freely to lungs


Airway collapses Blocked air flow


The following are common symptoms when sleep apnea is present.

  • Being overweight or obese (although 50% of people are not obese)
  • Large tonsils or adenoids
  • Large neck size (greater than 17" in men and 16" in women)
  • Nasal congestion or blockage (from colds, sinusitus, allergies, smoking, etc.)
  • Throat muscles or tongue relaxes more than normal during sleep

When to See the Sleep Center

If you suspect you or someone you know, it is imperative to see a doctor right away.

Untreated OSA

Most of the time, OSA sufferers go undiagnosed and untreated - which is extremely dangerous and can create increased risk of:

  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Arrhythmias
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Sleep deprived motor vehicle accidents


Treatment for sleep apnea varies based on the particular cause leading to the sleep disorder. However, the most common treatment for sleep apnea is the use of a CPAP device (or continuous positive airway pressure). The device helps air get into the lungs during sleep by assisting the patient with inhaling, providing a flow of air into the throat and keeping the airway open.

Milder cases of sleep apnea may not require a CPAP device and other alternatives are available. Contact the Sleep Center of the Rockies® to find out more about the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea. There is no reason that you cannot get on a path to good health through better sleep!