By now, many of us have heard about obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), or just "sleep apnea" as it is commonly referred to in public dialogue. OSA is a condition in which the flow of air pauses or decreases during breathing while you are asleep because the airway has become narrowed, blocked, or floppy. A pause in breathing is called an apnea. Impacts from OSA are widespread, including straight-forward dangers related to reduced oxygen delivery and it's impact on the mechanics of the heart, to less intuitive impacts such as the onset or exacerbation of diabetes, obesity, and mental health disorders by virtue of secondary mechanisms
The trouble with limiting public discussion of OSA to formal definitions of apneas and their mechanical causes is that many people assume they do not have sleep apnea because they'd KNOW if they stopped breathing during sleep. However, that is not the case. Our body overcomes and even anticipates upper-airway resistance, of which snoring is a prime indicator, by setting in motion repeated patterns of increased neuromuscular vigor around the upper airway to keep the airway open. The problem is that this process usually does not wake you, but it sets in motion all of the adverse daytime effects associated with OSA.
It is hard to imagine— but true— that repeated bouts of tiny increases in nerve and muscular signals can have such adverse effects on basic health, including persistent hypertension, obesity, and diabetes. After all, these episodes may happen literally hundreds of times per night and we may not even be aware. Nonetheless, they also disrupt our basic sleep architecture, which means that we do not enter deep, restorative stages of sleep. When that happens, more adverse effects ensue, but in addition, we may demonstrate difficulty getting back to sleep or frequent awakenings— particularly when other issues conspire to keep us awake.
For OSA or other sleep disorder screening, please inquire at MEMBER SERVICES or ask your wellness provider for sleep clinical resource pathways.
To learn more about sleep disorders in general, transfer to our In-Depth Learning Module designed for wellness providers.