How Common is Sleep Apnea Overall?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) currently affects countless individuals and unfortunately, the cases seem to be on the rise in certain countries. 

While the severity of the symptoms may vary, the fact of the matter is that failing to obtain the proper amount of rest each night will inevitably place our health at risk. Still, we need to ask an important question.

Is sleep apnea as common as we have been led to believe? In order to properly address this topic, it is important to take a look at the different types of variants as well as the causes. We can then examine the statistics themselves.

The Three Different Types of Sleep Apnea

Many individuals believe that sleep apnea is a single condition. Interestingly enough, this is certainly not the case. There are actually three distinct variants and each of these may require slightly different treatments. Let's take a quick look at each. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This is the most well-known form of sleep apnea and therefore, it has received a significant amount of attention over the years. OSA is caused by throat muscles that become relaxed and blocked during sleep – which leads to disrupted breathing, as oxygen is cut off multiple times during the night.  

OSA can often be treated with the help of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which decreases the severity of the condition. When oxygen is delivered directly to the airway, this keeps the airway open so breathing is normal – and sleep is normal as well.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is quite different from OSA. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain misfires when sending signals to the respiratory muscles during sleep. Although the symptoms may be similar to obstructive sleep apnea, the causes are not. 

Central sleep apnea is linked with neurological issues such as brain infections, abnormalities of the brain stem, Parkinson's disease, and certain types of medicines such as benzodiazepine or opioids.  

Complex Sleep Apnea

This variant is a combination of the two subcategories mentioned above. Complex sleep apnea has only recently been discovered and doctors are still attempting to understand its intricacies. It has nonetheless been found that up to 15 percent of all people who have been diagnosed with OSA may actually be suffering from complex sleep apnea. 

One way to differentiate between these two conditions is by analyzing the effectiveness of a CPAP treatment. If you still experience symptoms, central sleep apnea may be playing a role. 

A Look at Some Disturbing Statistics

Ongoing studies have found that nearly one billion individuals suffer from some form of sleep apnea. This roughly equates to 14 percent of the global population. What is perhaps even more disconcerting is that these numbers seem to be on the rise. Why might this be the case and is there any cause for concern?

Obesity is a well-known factor that will dramatically increase the chances of developing sleep apnea. Overweight people often have greater fat deposits around the airway. 

Not only can this lead to a narrowing effect, but it may also cause decreased levels of muscular activity. Both are major risk factors in developing sleep apnea. Let's also remember that obesity can cause the symptoms themselves to become more severe. 

We also have a better understanding of the condition itself, which is leading to more diagnoses. Those who suspect that they may have this illness are more likely to seek professional help and therefore, the number of diagnoses is also increasing. This is not necessarily bad news, as there are many effective ways to alleviate the associated symptoms and to obtain a sound night of rest. 

What Treatment Options are Available?

Now that scientists have begun to understand the causes of obstructive sleep apnea, targeted treatments are available. Many of these involve the CPAP machine. These devices are essentially designed to provide a pressurized source of air while asleep. This allows the respiratory tract to remain open and the body will receive the oxygen that it requires.

However, those who have been diagnosed with central sleep apnea might require a slightly different approach. As the brain is involved, a higher amount of air pressure may be needed – and a BiPAP (bi-level positive airway pressure machine) could be recommended. A BiPAP reduces the amount of pressure applied when exhaling -- potentially leading to a more effective solution when treating this condition. 

Lifestyle Changes Are Critical

Although we cannot stress the role that CPAP and BiPAP machines play in relation to sleep apnea, it is just as important to remember that certain lifestyle changes can make a massive difference. 

The most obvious is trying to remain at a healthy weight – and lose weight if your doctor says you need to. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help you lose even a small percentage of weight – which can go a long way toward improving your sleep apnea symptoms.

More useful recommendations include:

  • Avoid alcohol and cigarettes.
  • Experiment with different sleep positions.
  • Purchase a pillow that provides better head and neck support.
  • Use a humidifier during sleep time.
  • Maintain a regular sleeping schedule.

Note that all of these actions are not meant to cure sleep apnea. They are instead intended to alleviate the severity of the symptoms. 

A Treatable Epidemic

Although more people are grappling with sleep apnea, we need to stress that symptoms will vary in terms of their disruptive nature. Indeed, some might not even be aware that they have this condition. 

The good news is that there are many ways to address sleep apnea by speaking with a trained professional. These targeted and effective solutions will provide you with the much-needed rest that you have been desperately looking for.