What is sleep apnea and how to treat it

November 14, 2014

It's hard to get enough rest if, as a sleep apnea sufferer, you repeatedly stop breathing during the night. Discover how treatment can help you sleep well and feel better rested.

What is sleep apnea and how to treat it

A medical condition that affects both genders and all age groups, sleep apnea can be mild or severe. Thankfully, there are machines to keep you breathing while you sleep and lifestyle changes that can eliminate sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea's symptoms

Sleep apnea has several symptoms.

  • Most people realize there is a problem if they wake in the middle of the night gasping for air.
  • Loud snoring can be another sign of sleep apnea. For many people, the main symptoms include not feeling rested after several hours of sleep or having a headache, sore throat or dry mouth in the morning.


The only way to diagnose sleep apnea is with an overnight sleep study at a sleep clinic.

The three kinds of sleep apnea

1. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of the disease.

  • With OSA, there is a blockage in the airways that impedes the flow of air.
  • In many cases, the throat muscles close, narrowing the airways and restricting the amount of air to the lungs.

2. The second type is central sleep apnea. This type involves the nervous system and the respiratory system.

  • With central sleep apnea, the brain has trouble sending a signal to the muscles responsible for breathing.
  • The lack of a signal interrupts breathing patterns for a few seconds until another signal gets through.

3. The rarest form of the disorder is called complex sleep apnea.

  • It's a combination of both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Treatments for sleep apnea


For mild sleep apnea, lifestyle changes or behaviour modification can help treat the sleep disorder.

  • For some people, losing weight eliminates a mild form of the disease.
  • Some people have gotten relief by stopping certain habits such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or taking sleeping pills.
  • Others have noticed their sleep apnea improves when they go to bed at the same time every night.

Breathing machines

Breathing machines are often necessary for those with moderate to severe sleep apnea.

  • There are many types and brands of sleep apnea machines, and it often takes trial and error to find the most comfortable machine for you.

CPAP machine

  • The most common sleep apnea machine is the continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machine.
  • This machine comes with a mask and straps for fitting the device over your mouth and nose and keeping it in place as you sleep. The CPAP provides a continuous flow of air that keeps the airways open as you sleep.

Adjustable airway pressure machine

  • Another sleep apnea machine is the adjustable airway pressure machine.
  • With this device, the amount of air pressure alternates.
  • For example, some people need less air pressure as they exhale, but more air pressure as they inhale.
  • Similar to CPAP, the sleep apnea machine keeps the air passageways open so people don't stop breathing during the night.

You can sleep well

Although sleep apnea can be a serious medical problem for some people, in most cases, there are treatments available that allow a person—and their partner—to sleep well at night.

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