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Sleep Apnea - An Extremely Common and Dangerous Sleep Disorder

Sleep apnea refers to a sleep disorder characterized by the interruption of breathing during sleep, such that respiration stops for ten or more seconds, cutting off valuable oxygen supplies to the brain. This interruption of the body's breathing cycle can recur hundreds of times each night, with potentially fatal results. Even more alarming, sleep apnea, the most dangerous of all sleep disorders, also represents one of the most commonly identified sleep disorders, affecting as many as eighteen million Americans each year.

This condition can be divided into two primary categories. "Central sleep apnea", caused by a neurological malfunction in which the brain somehow disrupts the normal signal to breathe and "Obstructive sleep apnea", characterized by the excessive relaxation or the collapse of muscles around the windpipe, which in turn causes windpipe obstruction. Both forms involve the frequent cessation of breathing and the temporary suspension of the oxygen supply to the brain, putting sleep apnea sufferers at a significantly greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

Diagnosing sleep apnea can be difficult. Snoring, one of the most common symptoms associated with sleep apnea (resulting in many people referring to this as "the snoring disease"), often leads to an erroneous diagnosis of the condition. In fact, snoring can be associated with a variety of other sleep disorders and conditions unrelated to sleep apnea.

When the brain senses a lack of oxygen, as a result of an obstructed windpipe, it reacts by waking the suffer sufficiently to start breathing again, often causing snoring or sometimes coughing. As a result, sleep apnea suffers enjoy a very poor quality of sleep and wake up feeling even more tired than before they went to bed.

Feelings of exhaustion, fatigue and an overwhelming desire to sleep during the day, known as excessive daytime sleepiness, characterize sleep apnea; especially if seen in conjunction with other symptoms such as morning headaches, noticeable lethargy, loss of interest in sex, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.

The ongoing exhaustion and physical fatigue brought on by undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea can also lead to the onset of serious psychological symptoms such as depression, irritability and changes in mood and behavior.

If you suspect that you are suffering from sleep apnea, you should seek immediate medical guidance and, if necessary, arrange the appropriate tests.

There are a variety of effective treatments available for both obstructive and central sleep apnea. Most patients benefit significantly from one or more of these treatments, which primarily involve simple behavioral adjustments like changing or modifying your sleeping position. Sufferers of mild obstructive sleep apnea as a result of persistent nasal congestion may simply require a course of decongestants, while more severe sleep apnea may need the use of an oxygen mask to stimulate consistent breathing while asleep. In severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea, certain surgical procedures can help to restore effective and consistent respiration during sleep, although sufferers should proceed down this particular route with caution, as surgery can often lead to added complications.

One important point to note is that, because of the risk of potentially fatal respiratory arrest, sleep apnea sufferers should refrain from taking sleeping pills or artificial sleep enhancers because of the associated respiratory dangers.

Natural sleep remedies provide an effective complement to medically prescribed treatments and can certainly help sufferers to enjoy a better night's sleep. Herbal remedies designed to improve the quality and duration of sleep can assist patients in managing and even reducing the excessive daytime sleepiness otherwise brought on by sleep apnea.

Similarly, the use of aromatherapy, chromatherapy and guided relaxation and meditation can help to reduce the anxiety and insomnia sleep apnea patients experience as they learn to manage their sleep disorder.

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