Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes obstruction of breathing during sleep. It can be due to either a physical obstruction, called obstructive sleep apnea, or a brain dysfunction, called central sleep apnea. Either way, the symptoms of sleep apnea are mostly the same.
Sleep apnea is a deceivingly unnoticeable disorder, as up to 90% of people with symptoms of sleep apnea do not even realize they are gasping for breath or waking up to restart their breathing multiple times every night. But any one of the many times each night that they stop breathing, they can stop breathing for good.
The sufferer typically does not notice his cessation of breathing during sleep, most people only ever know they might have a disorder when their bed partner informs them of either or both major common symptoms of sleep apnea: loud snoring, and the opposite, periodic silence from the lack of breathing.
Loud snoring or sudden silence are two common symptoms of sleep apnea, there are others such as gasping for breath, waking up suddenly, and being tired after a full night’s sleep. If the bed partner manages to convince the sufferer to get it checked out, the diagnosis is usually easily made following an overnight stay at a sleep clinic.
My mother spent many years being frustrated and tired because she could not sleep thanks to my father’s very loud snoring. It could be heard two rooms away, it was so loud. After decades of irritation, my father finally caved and went to a sleep clinic to see if the snoring could be alleviated, only to receive the news that he stopped breathing 46 times in the clinic the night before. The doctor recommended that his tonsils, which were obstructing his windpipe causing both the breathing and snoring problems, be cut out, and my mother has not complained since.
The major difference between the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea is that central sleep apnea sufferers tend not to snore. Snoring is caused by the physical obstruction of the airway, which is not the problem in central sleep apnea, but rather a neurological problem causing the signal to breathe to be delayed during sleep.
The symptoms of sleep apnea for both the obstructive and central types of apnea differ slightly, but, the net result is the same – that is, oxygen deprivation because of the lack of breathing, which is prolonged can lead to brain damage, and poor sleep due to the frequent awakenings, which leads to the daytime exhaustion.