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What Happens When You Stop Breathing in the Middle of the Night?

Posted On January 19, 2014
January 19, 2014

During the course of a night’s sleep, have you or a loved one woken up gasping for air? Does it happen often or just occasionally? Or perhaps, you might not even be aware that your breathing essentially stops? Would you like to know exactly what happens when you stop breathing in the middle of the night? If this sounds familiar, it might be time to find out if anything is medically wrong. You might actually be suffering from a medical condition known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

OSA is a condition in which there is a partial or full blockage of an individual’s airway while he or she tries to sleep at night. In fact, the word apnea is derived from the Greek word “apnoia,” which means absence of breathing. With OSA, breathing is impaired to a variable degree depending upon the severity of the blockage. When air is not flowing to your lungs, oxygenated blood is also not coursing freely in your blood vessels. Hence, when the oxygen level gets too low and conversely the carbon dioxide level gets too high, OSA sufferers stop breathing. And in turn, their brain recognizes the problem and sends a signal for the body to start breathing again. Breathing can cease from mere seconds to as long as a minute. Breathing stoppage can happen as little as five times an hour to greater than 30 instances.

Quite often, someone with OSA is not even aware that they have stopped breathing or woken up gasping for air as a result. But they very well will know something is amiss the next day when fatigue, sleepiness, the inability to concentrate, memory problems and mood swings occur. These symptoms can be troublesome but of greater concern is the impact that untreated OSA can have on an individual’s health. It increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and stroke.

Is There Hope?

Amid the doom and gloom, nevertheless, there is good news. Once properly diagnosed by means of a sleep study, OSA is highly treatable. It all depends on the severity, which is classified by the number of episodes that occur during an hour.

Mild OSA: five to fifteen episodes an hour

Moderate OSA: sixteen to thirty episodes an hour

Severe OSA: more than thirty-one episodes an hour

This information along with other factors will assist the physician in determining the best course of sleep apnea treatment for each patient on an individualized basis.

If you believe that you might have sleep apnea, please contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 or schedule a free consultation.

About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Communications for Sleep Apnea Treatment Centers of America, manages all content and communications for the company.
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