The term “sleep disordered breathing” (SDB) refers to a full range of breathing problems that result from an insufficient amount of air that reaches the lungs (i.e., hypopnea and apnea). It is estimated that one-third of the U.S. population suffers from some type of sleep disorder. Approximately 40 million individuals are chronic sufferers, yet less than 10% have been diagnosed or sought treatment. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, the results can be life-threatening – from an increased risk of heart attack, congestive heart failure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and work and driving related accidents. Sleep apnea patients may also suffer with memory impairment, difficulty concentrating and low energy. Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) in children is being increasingly recognized as a cause of attention and behavior problems.
Several types of sleep disorders affect both children and adults but the most prevalent is sleep apnea. Also known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), this manifests itself at night when a child or adult is sleeping. As the muscles relax, the tongue and soft palate collapse onto the back of the throat and block the upper airway, causing airflow to stop. When the oxygen level drops low enough, the brain moves out of deep sleep and the sleeper partially awakens. The airway then contracts and opens, causing the obstruction in the throat to clear. The flow of air starts again, usually with a loud gasp. Although this arousal from sleep may only last seconds, the cycle repeats throughout the night, disrupting the sleep pattern and preventing the individual from getting a continuous flow of oxygen and reaching the stage of restful, deep sleep the body needs in order to rest and replenish its strength. It is this combination of low oxygen levels and interrupted, fragmented sleep that contributes to most of the ill effects suffered by the sleep apnea patient.
Typically, the frequency of waking episodes is somewhere between 10 and 60. A person with severe OSA may have more than 100 waking episodes in a single night. Men usually have a greater incidence of OSA until women reach the age of menopause. This is because men accumulate fat in their throats and bellies (stomach) and women accumulate fat on their hips and thighs (pre-menopausal). However after menopause, women also accumulate fat in their throats and bellies due to increasing testosterone and reducing estrogen levels.