Getting a good night’s sleep can work wonders for your health

Sleep apnea can seriously disrupt your sleep

Sleep apnea is a condition in which your breathing is interrupted, repeatedly, while you sleep. Sleep apnea is a chronic disease with multiple destructive health results.

According to the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project, the prevalence of sleep apnea is increasing. Currently, 25,000 adult Americans are affected with sleep apnea.

There are two forms of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea, which is rare, occurs when the breathing signals from the brain, during sleep, are interrupted. This article will focus on the most common type of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea.


Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the tissue in the back of your throat relaxes and collapses. As a result, your airway is blocked, and the situation prevents you from breathing. This is often preceded by loud snoring.

Your unconscious brain senses the lack of breathing and oxygen and forces you to take a breath and start breathing again. The waking is often so brief it is not remembered. The snoring returns and the cycle can repeat itself dozens or even hundreds of times throughout the night.

Most people do not realize that this is happening and, in fact, think that they have slept well all night. Many people with obstructive sleep apnea find it impossible to reach a recuperative or restful level of sleep and feel run-down and tired the next day.

Many people who snore have sleep apnea, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.

Risk factors

  • Being overweight
  • Being male
  • Having chronic sinus blockage
  • Having a narrow airway
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Heavy drinking
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Personal history of asthma
  • Certain medications that relax muscles

Signs, symptoms, and long-term complications

  • Loud snoring that often disrupts others punctuated by periods of silence
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Feeling run-down and tired or lethargic all day
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Diabetes type II
  • Trouble losing weight
  • Heart disease or other heart problems
  • Gasping for breath during sleep
  • Excessively dry throat and mouth when awakening
  • Depression
  • Stroke
  • Having to urinate during the night
  • High blood pressure
  • Glaucoma


The diagnosis is made with a sleep study. A patient stays overnight in a medical facility. The room in the facility is very similar to a hotel room, but there is a technician in the next room monitoring your sleep patterns and breathing. If certain diagnostic criteria are met, a diagnosis of sleep apnea is confirmed.


Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): A special medical device supplies air with a pressure large enough to keep your airways open when you sleep. Some can adjust the pressure of air based on whether you are inhaling or exhaling. This is done using a gently fitted facial or nasal mask. It is the most common treatment for sleep apnea and the treatment of choice for the majority of cases of obstructive sleep apnea.

Note: If you are being treated for sleep apnea, make sure you have your CPAP checked twice yearly for proper fit and pressure, and make sure you clean the unit on a regular basis as recommended by the manufacturer.

Oral appliances: These devices are designed to keep your airway open. Many act by keeping your lower jaw in a forward position, thus keeping your airway open. These can also improve snoring. These work best for milder cases of sleep apnea.

Surgery: Surgery is considered when other options have been exhausted. Often, the excessive tissue is removed surgically with a laser to maintain a more open airway. Alternatively, the jaw can be repositioned to provide a wider airway, or special plastic cylinders can be inserted into the tissue of the palate to keep the airway open during sleep.

In cases of life-threatening sleep apnea, more aggressive surgery can be performed, creating a breathing hole on the neck that can be uncovered when sleep is attempted.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea affects over 20 percent of adults and is associated with many adverse health conditions such as chronic fatigue, obesity, cardiac disease, glaucoma and diabetes. If you snore loudly, feel tired even after a long night’s sleep, wake up grasping for breath, wake up with a headache, wake up with a dry mouth and/or throat, or have difficulty losing weight or controlling blood pressure, be sure to talk to your doctor about scheduling a special sleep study to evaluate the possibility of having obstructive sleep apnea.

Treating sleep apnea can be one of the very best things you or anyone can do to improve the quality of one’s overall health by improving and managing many chronic medical conditions. Many people who have their obstructive sleep apnea successfully treated report that it can be absolutely, positively life-changing.


Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations.