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12.4: Sleep Apnea

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    75079
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    Sleep apnea is defined by episodes during which a sleeper’s breathing stops. These episodes can last 10–20 seconds or longer and often are associated with brief periods of arousal. While individuals suffering from sleep apnea may not be aware of these repeated disruptions in sleep, they do experience increased levels of fatigue. Many individuals diagnosed with sleep apnea first seek treatment because their sleeping partners indicate that they snore loudly and/or stop breathing for extended periods of time while sleeping (Henry & Rosenthal, 2013). Sleep apnea is much more common in overweight people and is often associated with loud snoring. Surprisingly, sleep apnea may exacerbate cardiovascular disease (Sánchezde-la-Torre et al., 2012). While sleep apnea is less common in thin people, anyone, regardless of their weight, who snores loudly or gasps for air while sleeping should be checked for sleep apnea.

    While people are often unaware of their sleep apnea, they are keenly aware of some of the adverse consequences of insufficient sleep. Consider a patient who believed that as a result of his sleep apnea he “had three car accidents in six weeks. They were ALL my fault. Two of them I didn’t even know I was involved in until afterwards” (Henry & Rosenthal, 2013, p. 52). It is not uncommon for people suffering from undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea to fear that their careers will be affected by the lack of sleep, illustrated by this statement from another patient: “I’m in a job where there’s a premium on being mentally alert. I was really sleepy and having trouble concentrating. It was getting to the point where it was kind of scary” (Henry & Rosenthal, 2013, p. 52).

    There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when an individual’s airway becomes blocked during sleep, and air is prevented from entering the lungs. In central sleep apnea, disruption in signals sent from the brain that regulate breathing cause periods of interrupted breathing (White, 2005).

    One of the most common treatments for sleep apnea involves the use of a special device during sleep. A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device includes a mask that fits over the sleeper’s nose and mouth, which is connected to a pump that pumps air into the person’s airways, forcing them to remain open, as shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\). Some newer CPAP masks are smaller and cover only the nose. This treatment option has proven to be effective for people suffering from mild to severe cases of sleep apnea (McDaid et al., 2009). However, alternative treatment options are being explored because consistent compliance by users of CPAP devices is a problem. Recently, a new EPAP (expiratory positive air pressure) device has shown promise in double-blind trials as one such alternative (Berry et al., 2011).

    Behaviorism_1.gif
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): (a) A typical CPAP device used in the treatment of sleep apnea is (b) affixed to the head with straps, and a mask covers the nose and mouth. [(a) “CPAP Therapy Device” by Benutzer:DL5MDA/Wikimedia Commons is in the public domain. (b) “Full face cpap mask” by JoJoJo04/Wikimedia Commons is in the public domain.]

    This page titled 12.4: Sleep Apnea is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kate Votaw.

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