Interruption of Breathing


Interruption of Breathing

If you have ever witnessed it firsthand, it can be somewhat scary to realize that someone has stopped breathing in their sleep. Several things can cause an interruption of breathing during sleep, but one of the most common is sleep apnea. As a matter of fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, sleep apnea is defined primarily by breathing interruptions.

The first question on your mind might be, “can these breathing interruptions kill me?” The answer is that the breathing interruptions themselves almost never lead to death. In other words, temporary breathing interruptions don’t become permanent. But, sleep apnea can have long and short-term consequences that could be life-threatening.

In the short term, breathing interruptions may cause a cardiac arrhythmia that could, in turn, lead to cardiac arrest, atrial fibrillation, and stroke. The long-term risks of leaving your sleep apnea untreated include hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and heart problems.

Sleep apnea is also associated with memory problems, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. There is also a link between the daytime drowsiness sleep apnea causes and car accidents.

If you’re having trouble with interrupted breathing, snoring, or suspect you have sleep apnea, call the New York snoring specialists of Silent Night Therapy at 631-983-2463 for an appointment to learn how we can help today.

How Breathing Resumes

When breathing is interrupted, the blood’s oxygen levels drop. The increased carbon dioxide levels stimulate your system to wake you up. These awakenings are somewhat jarring to the system and are associated with increased heart rate and blood pressure. If it is happening to you, you might wake up gasping or choking.

When Does Sleep Apnea Become Serious?

You might think that only people who have sleep apnea experience interruptions in breathing. The fact is that it is thought to be normal to experience pauses in breathing during sleep. It may occur up to five times per hour in “normal” adults and once per hour in children. Many consider these events to be a normal part of sleep-stage transitions.

A sleep study can determine whether breathing disruptions are happening more frequently than normal. Sleep apnea can be classified into the following categories based on the apnea-hypopnea index.

  • Mild Sleep Apnea: 5-14 events per hour
  • Moderate Sleep Apnea: 15-30 events per hour
  • Severe Sleep Apnea: More than 30 events per hour

Another factor to consider is the degree of oxygen deprivation that occurs with these events. It is called hypoxemia when oxygen levels fall below 90 percent. Chronic oxygen deprivation can result in negative short-term and long-term effects.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you notice that you or someone you love is experiencing interruptions in their breathing, it is important to get a medical evaluation. These are not inconsequential occurrences. Over time, it can lead to serious problems.

Also, sleep apnea is not the only condition that causes breathing interruptions in sleep; it is just the most common. Other potential causes include:

  • Cheyne-Stokes Respirations: This is an irregular pattern of breathing that occurs as periods of very deep and rapid breaths followed by periods of slow, shallow breaths, that might be broken up when an individual stops breathing altogether for a time. This cycle of breathing often occurs in the last days and hours of life but is also associated with other disorders like congestive heart failure.
  • Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (Ondine’s curse): Usually due to a nervous system impairment, this is when shallow breathing, especially during sleep, leads to an oxygen shortage and excess carbon dioxide in the blood.
  • Central Sleep Apnea: Not to be confused with the more common obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to tell the respiratory muscles to work. The causes of this can be a problem with the brainstem, severe obesity, and certain medications, including opioids.

These and other conditions should be ruled out as the potential cause of your breathing interruptions during sleep.

Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. This happens when the muscles in the back of your throat relax to a greater degree than they should. This relaxation prevents normal breathing. These are the same muscles that support the back of the roof of the mouth, uvula, and tongue.

When these muscles are overly relaxed, your airway closes or narrows when you breathe in, thus hampering your breath for ten seconds or longer. Many people with this type of sleep apnea don’t even realize that they have it.

Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Several issues could make having sleep apnea more likely. They include:

  • Older Age: Although developing OSA becomes more of a risk as you age, that risk appears to level off after your 60s and 70s.
  • Narrowed Airway: A narrow airway can be inherited. In other cases, your airway might be blocked by enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
  • Excess Weight: A high percentage of all people with OSA are overweight. Breathing can be obstructed by fatty deposits around the upper airway. Conditions such as hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome can contribute to OSA.
  • Smoking: Smokers are at a greater risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Hypertension (High Blood Pressure): There seems to be a correlation between people who have hypertension and people with obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Chronic Nasal Congestion: Consistent nasal congestion at night, for whatever reason, makes it twice as likely that someone will have obstructive sleep apnea. Narrowed airways may be the reason for this.
  • Sex: Obstructive sleep apnea occurs in males two to three times more often than in premenopausal women. After menopause, the risk for OSA increases in women.
  • Diabetes: People with diabetes might be more prone to develop obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Asthma: Research has determined that there is a link between asthma and the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.

Treatment for Interruption of Breathing Problems

If you or a loved one has noticed that you are experiencing interruptions in your breathing when you sleep, see the experienced sleep specialists of Silent Night Therapy and get a complimentary review of your lifestyle and sleep habits.

It might also benefit you to participate in a home sleep study or be examined overnight at a sleep clinic. After a thorough review, our doctors will determine your best course of treatment. A restful night’s sleep is within your reach. Give us a call at 631-983-2463.