Obstructive sleep apnea
Loss of breath during sleep is a sign of a sleep disorder
If you share the same bed or room with someone who repeatedly stops breathing as they sleep, take time to tell him or her about it. Loss of air flow into the body may be caused by a life-threatening condition called obstructive sleep apnea.
Frequent interruptions in breathing during sleep are often due to airway collapse in adults. The condition puts pressure on the body to continue to function normally.
A cascade of events follows a drop in oxygenation. It starts with a rise in blood pressure and pulse, an adrenaline surge in the bloodstream and a pouring out of adhesion molecules that raise the risk of blood clots. Meanwhile, blood cells clump together and to the artery wall as plaque forms inside the arteries. Sleep apnea also can cause distressing arousals from sleep, leading to daytime sleepiness and other problems.
Being a witness to sleep apnea is perhaps the most important clue that a bed partner or roommate might have a life-threatening sleep disorder. Loud snoring and gasping while awake are also common symptoms. Partners, predictably, may also experience daytime sleepiness.
Severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea affect 23 percent of women and 49 percent of men, according to the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort research study of 1993 and European follow-up trials. This rising number is considered a consequence of the obesity epidemic, better diagnostic tests and more informed clinicians.
Where is the obstruction responsible for the airway collapse? In the USA, it is typically due to fatty tissue at the base of the tongue. In Asia it is likely due to natural facial structure and posterior tongue position. When this cycle recurs off and on all night, safe sleep is threatened, with vascular injury and disease taking over.