Sleep Apnea – When Snoring Can Be Fatal


If you happen to have the doubtful pleasure of sleeping next to a person suffering from Sleep Apnea, chances are that you are invariably waiting for the “other shoe to drop.” You are left wondering when the breathing is going to resume so you can also get back to some semblance of sleep. Couples in this situation often develop a disturbed sleep cycle, and you, become a perfect case for secondary insomnia syndrome. This, of course, is a cooked up syndrome, but one which many of us go through night after night.

Sleep Apnea is a condition where a heavy snorer is given to periods of total silence, in between the bouts of noisy cacophony which resonates in our brains long after they cease.

The periods of silence (where the snorer is ‘catching his breath’) leave you wondering, “What happened?” or, “When will he resume the rhythm again so I can get some sleep?”

For many sleep apnea patients, their bed partners or family members are the first ones to suspect that something is wrong; usually from their heavy snoring and apparent struggle to breathe. Coworkers or friends of the sleep apnea victim may notice that the individual falls asleep during the day at inappropriate times (such as while driving a car, working, or talking).

An “apnea” is defined as a period of time when breathing comes to a total halt, or is markedly reduced. It would mean a period of non- breathing for 10 seconds or more. It also means a reduction in the transfer of oxygen to the blood when breathing stops.


Patients suffering from Sleep Apnea may not even be aware of their condition till such time as they report some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Loud snoring
  • Change in personality
  • Depression
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Reduced sex drive and impotence
  • High blood pressure
  • Restless sleep; the repeated struggle to breathe can be associated with a great deal of movement.
  • Depressed mood and/or irritability
  • Snorting, gasping, choking during sleep
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent nocturnal urination
  • Confusion upon awakening
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Morning headaches
  • Sleep that is not refreshing.

Given all these symptoms, which may not be attributed to other causes, and if the patient is a heavy snorer, chances are he/she may be diagnosed as suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

Also note that sleep apnea is more prevalent in adult males than in females, and at times may also be genetically flavored.

Detailed Description

Keeping in mind the above definition of Apnea, and its correlated symptoms, we can understand the gravity of SLEEP APNEA, wherein we don’t even realize that we have stopped breathing.

Man with CPAP machine

During Sleep Apnea, The Airflow Through Your Throat is Blocked.

During the apneic event, the person is unable to breathe in oxygen and to exhale carbon dioxide, resulting in low levels of oxygen and increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. The reduction in oxygen and increase in carbon dioxide alert the brain to resume breathing and cause an abrupt arousal.

With each arousal, a signal is sent from the brain to the upper airway muscles to open the airway; breathing is resumed, often with a loud snort or gasp. Frequent arousals, although necessary for breathing to restart, prevent the patient from getting enough restorative, deep sleep.

It is important to note that there are two types of sleep apnea, and that you can actually suffer from both of them.

Central Sleep Apnea

This type of sleep apnea is caused by imbalance in the brain’s respiratory control centers, and makes up 0.4 % of all sleep apnea cases.

When a person with central sleep apnea sleep, there is a delay in the signals sent from the neurological feedback mechanism that is monitoring the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

Due to this delay, it is difficult for the body to keep the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood constant. The body will try to adjust the respiratory rate based on the signals that the body should have received earlier.

This means that the respiratory rate isn’t what it should be to stabilize the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. Your body will be constantly changing between apnea and hyperpnoea (the opposite of apnea).

During a central sleep apnea the person will not breathe, and not surprisingly, will not make any attempt doing so either. This is followed by a period of rapid breathing, to compensate for the lack of oxygen in the blood.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

When people talk about sleep apnea, this is the type of sleep apnea most of them are referring to. Covering 84% of all sleep apnea cases, it is the far most common type of sleep apnea, and possibly the easiest to threat.

Obstructive sleep apnea has the same causes as normal snoring, but is far more serious and harder to eliminate.

Complex Sleep Apnea

As many as 14% of all sleep apnea cases, are cases where the patient is suffering from both of the two types of apnea that I’ve mentioned so far. In many cases, central sleep apnea is developed when the patient has been suffering from severe obstructive sleep apnea for some time. The reason for this still remains unclear.

If you are to find yourself in this unlucky group of sleep apnea sufferers, then you will have to cure both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. But don’t worry, since with today’s technology, it is not as hard as it might sound at first.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Sleep apnea can be diagnosed in several ways, most of them fairly complicated. However, there are ways to find out if you are in the high probability group, for instance by taking the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.

All though I could suggest treatments that would likely eliminate your sleep apnea it is such a serious condition that you shouldn’t diagnose it yourself.

If you for any reason think that you might have sleep apnea, or you get a score of 10 or more on the Epworth sleepiness scale, then you should contact your doctor immediately.

After you have consulted with your doctor, you may go back to the chapter about snoring causes, and find a possible solution for your snoring, that has been reported to eliminate obstructive sleep apnea in many cases.

Again, remember, sleep apnea always needs attention from a doctor!

You may also want to check out the American Sleep Apnea Association.  It’s a is a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing injury, disability, and death from sleep apnea and to enhancing the well-being of those affected by this common disorder.