Sleep apnea is a debilitating sleep condition that can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep and feeling well-rested. This common sleep disorder interferes with your breathing patterns. It can lead to many other serious health problems when left untreated. If you live with sleep apnea, seek treatment as soon as possible to benefit from better quality sleep, and reduce your risk for related medical conditions.

Read on to learn more about the different types of sleep apnea and about how Lompoc Valley Medical Center can treat and help you manage this sleep disorder.

sleep pap machine

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which your breathing stops and starts repeatedly. In sleep apnea, the upper airway becomes blocked to reduce or stop airflow, or the brain may fail to send the signals needed to breathe. Many people do not know they have sleep apnea unless their sleeping partners tell them, or they wake up feeling groggy and tired after a full night’s sleep.

What Are the Different Types of Sleep Apnea?

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea and affects an estimated 22% of men and 17% of women. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles at the back of the throat relax during sleep—causing the airway to narrow or close. When breathing stops, the brain signals you to wake so you can resume breathing. This often results in a brief episode of gasping, snorting, or choking, which you may or may not remember if you fall back asleep right away.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send signals for breathing—resulting in periods of stopped breathing throughout the night. Central sleep apnea is less common than obstructive sleep apnea and affects an estimated 0.9% population. People with central sleep apnea may wake with shortness of breath and have difficulty falling back asleep.

Complex Sleep Apnea

Also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, this type of sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Complex sleep apnea usually only occurs in patients with obstructive sleep apnea who use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device.

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Many people with sleep apnea snore loudly throughout the night and wake up feeling extremely groggy and fatigued despite thinking they had a good night’s sleep.

Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Frequent loud snoring
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Episodes of paused breathing during sleep
  • Dry mouth when waking.
  • Headache upon waking
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Low attention span
  • Decreased concentration
  • Decreased motor skills
  • Irritability
  • Frequent urination during the night
  • Decreased sexual libido

Some people may not know they have sleep apnea unless their sleeping partners inform them of their sleep symptoms and behaviors. Those who sleep alone and wake up feeling groggy and tired may need to participate in a sleep study to receive a sleep apnea diagnosis.

What Are Risk Factors of Sleep Apnea?

Anyone can get sleep apnea, including children. However, there are many factors and lifestyle behaviors that may increase your risk. Common risk factors of sleep apnea include:

  • Excess weight. Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of sleep apnea because deposits of excess fat around the upper airway can obstruct breathing while you sleep.
  • Being male. Men are between two and three times more likely than women to have sleep apnea.
  • Being older. The risk of sleep apnea increases with age and occurs more often in older adults.
  • Genetics and family history. Those with a family history of sleep apnea may be at higher risk for this sleep disorder.
  • Use of alcohol and certain medications. Alcohol, tranquilizers, and sedatives like benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants that cause muscle relaxation and slowed breathing. Therefore, using these substances may cause or worsen sleep apnea. Opioids may increase the risk of central sleep apnea.
  • Smoking. Those who smoke are at higher risk of sleep apnea because smoking contributes to inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.
  • Medical conditions. Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and asthma are some of the many medical conditions that may increase sleep apnea risk.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

A sleep specialist can accurately diagnose sleep apnea during a sleep study. In some instances, your doctor may be able to diagnose sleep apnea by evaluating your symptoms and sleep history, which often involves feedback from your sleep partner or someone in your household. 

A sleep study may be performed as an overnight study at a sleep disorder center or with an at-home sleep apnea test given to you by your doctor. During a sleep study, vitals such as your breathing and heart rate are monitored, as well as your sleeping behavior. If you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, you may be referred to other specialists who can identify and treat the root cause of your sleep disorder.

How Can Sleep Apnea Be Treated?

Treatment for sleep apnea will vary based on the underlying cause of your sleep disorder. 

Treatment will often involve making healthy lifestyle changes to improve your symptoms, such as exercising regularly and eating healthy foods to lose excess weight or joining a smoking cessation program to quit smoking. If sleep apnea is being driven by the use of alcohol or certain medications, your doctor may recommend reducing or stopping alcohol intake or switching to other medications or therapies that won’t worsen symptoms.

Other treatments for sleep apnea include:

  • CPAP. A CPAP machine delivers air pressure through a mask to keep your upper airway open. At the same time, you sleep, which prevents snoring and pauses in breathing. Your doctor can help you choose a comfortable and efficient CPAP mask and manage the settings on your CPAP machine based on your symptoms.
  • Oral appliance. A custom-made oral appliance can keep your throat open while you sleep and reduce symptoms of sleep apnea. Your doctor may refer you to a dentist or another specialist who will work with you to design a comfortable and fitted oral appliance.
  • Treatment for underlying medical conditions. Sleep apnea caused by underlying medical conditions such as hypertension, congestive heart failure, and polycystic ovarian syndrome may be improved by treating the underlying condition.
  • Surgery. Surgery may be performed to remove or shrink tissue in the throat, reposition the jaw, or stimulate nerves in the throat to keep the airway open during sleep. Surgery is often a last resort treatment option for sleep apnea. It is usually performed when other treatments fail to reduce symptoms.

Where to Find Quality Treatment For Sleep Apnea

Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to a large team of medical providers trained and experienced in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. Visit our provider page today to make an appointment with a doctor or sleep specialist who can treat sleep apnea in you or your loved one.