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The sleep disorder central sleep apnea is characterized by the brain failing to send the proper signals to the muscles in the respiratory system that trigger the breathing process. The lack of a signal from the brain, in turn, causes the individual with the disorder to stop breathing for a period of time, sometimes as long as 20 seconds. Among all the various forms of respiratory-related sleep disorders, central sleep apnea is one of the rarest.
Since an individual may not realize they are suffering from central sleep apnea, there are several signs that can be identified during waking hours that may indicate the disorder is present. These may include ongoing chronic fatigue, trouble remaining asleep, or difficulty staying awake during the day. Other symptoms of the disorder can include a sore throat and difficulty swallowing, morning headaches, lack of concentration, and declining moods. The most common side effect, of course, is the disruption in the individual's breathing patterns during sleep that others may witness.
While anyone can develop central sleep apnea, studies show the highest risk factors lie with males over the age of 40 who are also overweight. This is due primarily to the fact that this same group is also at high risk for heart attacks and strokes, two major items that can contribute to the development of central sleep apnea. Individuals with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, and encephalitis are also susceptible to developing the disorder, as it is a common component of these various diseases.
Central sleep apnea is a treatable condition, particularly when it exists independently of a more complicated disease. The most common treatment involves the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This process involves delivering a low-pressure flow of air into the nose and mouth through a mask that is worn during sleep. If the disorder exists in conjunction with another issue, such as heart disease, treating the major disorder will often relieve the symptoms of the apnea.
For minor cases of central sleep apnea, there are several steps an individual can take to help relieve the effects of the disorder. These include weight loss, if applicable, sleeping on one side, and using over-the-counter nasal strips or sprays designed to keep airways open during sleep. Alcohol and sedatives should also be avoided before sleep, as they tend to promote apnea-like side effects even without the presence of an underlying cause.