Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder which causes breathing to temporarily stops during sleep. It can last ten seconds or a little longer. The most common cause for this problem is when the muscles of the soft palate, which is located at the base of the throat, and the soft tissue hanging from the palate, are completely relaxed and therefore sag. These sagging muscles obstruct the airway which causes labored breathing. This causes the person to snore loudly.
If there is complete blockage, breathing stops and the sleeper becomes silent. The pressure to breathe again makes the muscles of the diaphragm and chest work harder and breathing starts again. Death has occurred if the sleeper has not been able to regain his/her breathing.
Sleep apnea can also be caused by an enlarged tonsil and adenoids, or even a large tongue which can cause a small airway opening. Again, this person may snore loudly and have difficulty breathing.
In another form of sleep apnea, the airway remains open but the diaphragm and chest muscles fail to work The cause of this is believed to be that there is a disturbance in the brain that regulates breathing during sleep.
Sleep apnea occurs in many people who are overweight. Therefore, doctors will advice people who are overweight and have sleep apnea, to take off their excess weight.
Other effective advice for sleep apnea is to not consume alcohol within two hours of going to sleep. Also, it is advised that sleeping drugs should not be used because they can cause a worsening of this disorder. Both drugs and alcohol can slow down the activity of the breathing muscles.
Over the years, an effective method has been used for those with sleep apnea. This involves wearing a mask over the nose and mouth during sleep. Air from an air compressor is forced through the mask into nasal passages and into the airway to keep it open.
Surgical procedures have been known to be helpful in some cases. This includes the removal of the excess tissue at the back of the throat , removal of enlarged tonsils or adenoids, and create an opening in the windpipe, known as a tracheotomy. This type of operation permits air to flow directly to the lungs during sleep.
It is wise to have this operation, if it is suggested by a physician, because severe sleep apnea may cause high blood pressure, heart failure, heart attack, or a stroke, and as mentioned, even death.
Source: The American Medical Association, Encyclopedia of Medicine