Nasal Passage and Throat Diagram

Levels of Sleep Apnea

There are different levels of sleep apnea, a condition where the respiratory system narrows during a sleep state. For people with obstructive sleep apnea, the respiratory system narrows in sleep, which decreases the amount of oxygen that enters the lungs. This lowered level of blood oxygen causes the sleeper to wake suddenly. Sometimes the sleeper does not realize their sleep was interrupted.


Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type and it can be mild to moderate to severe in its effects. The typical person who suffers from this condition is more likely to be an overweight male between 35 and 50 years old, with a small jaw, a small opening at the back of the throat and a large tongue or tonsils. Females suffer as well, but it tends to be men twice as often. Losing weight would help people with the condition since it is the fatty tissues in the neck and throat that block the airways.

While a person with obstructive sleep apnea sleeps, the muscles in the airways relax and sag, collapsing the airway until the sleeper wakes abruptly. This cycle repeats over and over through the night. Interruptions in the sleep cycle can happen a few times in the night, or hundreds of times.

Central sleep apnea is rarer, and is not caused by a failure of breathing, but instead, it is a communication problem between the brain and the muscles that control breathing. Sometimes the person may stop breathing for 10 or 20 seconds. People with central sleep apnea don’t have blocked airways, but the condition is often caused by other medical conditions that may affect the brain, and those conditions can also interfere with quality of life.

Mixed sleep apnea is when a person may have long periods of obstructive sleep apnea, with brief periods of central sleep apnea.

Effects of sleep apnea can leave people very sleepy the next day. A good night’s sleep is essential, and constant interruptions in the night leaves a person depressed, irritable, or unable to concentrate. The amount of times the interruptions occur is what indicate the changes in level. Mild obstructive sleep apnea is when breathing is only interrupted from 5 - 14 times in an hour, moderate obstructive sleep apnea interrupts breathing more than 15 times, and severe obstructive sleep apnea is when sleep is interrupted more than thirty times in one hour. People with severe sleep apnea are more likely to have automobile crashes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, heart failure and strokes.

There is no cure, but obstructive and central sleep apnea can be managed with CPAP therapy. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is a breathing mask worn by the sleeper, so that just enough air pressure is delivered to keep the airways open that would otherwise collapse during sleep, causing snoring and pauses in breathing.

CPAP Solutions Inc. will help you get a good night sleep if you suffer from sleep apnea.

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