Sleep apnea is simply pauses in breathing while you sleep. Typical symptoms include snoring and pronounced daytime sleepiness. However, the degree of symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the sleep apnea. The National Institutes for Health indicates that morning headaches and memory problems can also be signs of sleep apnea. If anyone has ever said you snore loudly on your back or that you pause your breathing when asleep, you should be evaluated for sleep apnea. Here are four crucial things about sleep apnea to help you understand it better.

Two Types of Sleep Apnea

There are two types of sleep apnea. One is obstructive sleep apnea. This is the form of sleep apnea most people are diagnosed with. Your breathing pauses in your sleep when the muscles in the back of your throat relax and temporarily block your air passage. As you try to take a breath while asleep and no air is flowing, you start to wake up. Then, the typical response is to gasp in a big breath of air and drift back off into a deeper level of sleep. You usually do not fully awaken to remember these episodes when they happen.

Central sleep apnea is caused when signals from your brain to take a breath are not correctly being sent to your muscles that control breathing. The symptoms for obstructive as well as central sleep apnea are the same. Central sleep apnea can be a sign of a more serious health condition such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease as well as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.

The Sleep Study

One of the reasons having a sleep study, or polysomnogram, completed is to figure out what type of sleep apnea you may have. The other reasons involve developing the treatment plan to use positive air pressure therapy after diagnosis. CPAP and BiPAP machines provide air pressure to keep your airways open and halt the pauses in breathing while you sleep.

The first part of a sleep study detects if you have sleep apnea and what type. As you sleep wearing gear that monitors things such as your breathing, brain waves, heartbeat and eye movements, a record of the information is being kept. One way doctors tell obstructive sleep apnea from central sleep apnea is the data coming from monitoring your breathing and your chest muscles. If you pause breathing but muscle activity demonstrates you are trying to take a breath, then it is likely obstructive sleep apnea. If you pause breathing and your muscles are not trying to take in a breath, then it is likely central sleep apnea. The discovery of the type of sleep apnea you may have is important to learn to decide the appropriate therapy.

The second part of the sleep study determines the air pressure setting for a CPAP or BiPAP machine as well as what type of mask you are most comfortable wearing. You should take your time in figuring out the mask type you need as compliance with the recommended therapy goes down when the equipment you are using to treat your condition is not comfortable to use on a nightly basis.

Oxygen and Oxygen Concentrators

In some instances your sleep apnea treatment may involve attaching a tiny hose to deliver oxygen along with the pressurized air from your CPAP or BiPAP machine. The masks often have a small attachment port to hold the thin oxygen tubing. If you do not need oxygen, this port is covered with a cap. Your doctor may prescribe oxygen from a bottle or from a separate oxygen concentrator. Most CPAP and BiPAP machines are very quiet. Your O2 concentrator may not be. If it is not, ask about long tubing to keep the O2 concentrator far enough away as to not disturb your sleep.

Exhale Pressure Relief

If you have ever faced a very strong wind and felt like you could not take a breath as it was blowing in your face, this is what older CPAP technology can feel like. The older machines did not relax the pressure as you breathed out. It can feel like you are fighting to force your breath out after every inhalation. This can be uncomfortable and cause you to give up positive air pressure therapy for treating sleep apnea. Ask about a machine that provides exhale or exhalation pressure relief. This type of machine will relax the pressure as you breathe out and increase it again as you breathe in. This can make treatment, especially at higher pressures, much more comfortable.

These basics will help you get started toward getting sleep apnea treated. If you stick with the treatment for a couple of weeks, you will notice improved daytime ability to stay awake, fewer early morning headaches, and a better overall feeling because of getting a better more restful sleep every night.

Author's Bio: 

Hannah Whittenly is a freelance writer and mother of two from Sacramento, CA. She enjoys kayaking and reading books by the lake.