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Sleep apnea occurs when your breathing stops and starts repeatedly while you are asleep. While this sounds like something you would notice, the fact of the matter is that many cases of sleep apnea go undiagnosed. More commonly, it is noticed by partners you share your bed with who are woken by your irregular breathing, although some cases are severe enough that the lack of airflow causes you to wake yourself up in the middle of the night.

There are three main types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea, affecting an estimated 17.5% of the U.S. population. This type of sleep apnea occurs when tissues in the back of your throat, such as your soft palate and uvula, shift into your airway, or when your tongue falls backwards towards your throat, partially obstructing your airway.
  • Central Sleep Apnea. This type of sleep apnea differs from OSA in that the root cause is not due to physical airway obstructions, but rather a neurological cause. With central sleep apnea, the restricted breathing is due to your brain or your respiratory muscles not functioning correctly or in tandem. So whereas OSA stems from difficulty in air passing through your airway, CSA stems from a lack of a respiratory effort.
  • Complex Sleep Apnea. This is a rare type of sleep apnea that is a mix of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. This type can sometimes be diagnosed during a sleep study if symptoms of both OSA and CSA are clearly present, but is more often diagnosed if your case of sleep apnea persists even after beginning CPAP treatment.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Since sleep apnea is often not a one-time occurrence, but a repeated process that occurs throughout the night, it’s very common to wake up feeling exhausted and achy. Because you can experience sleep apnea without waking up, it can seem like you’re just not getting enough rest while asleep, especially if you are sleeping for the same amount of time as you always do.

Due to the cycle of interrupted sleep, and depending on how severe a case of sleep apnea you have, it can be difficult to achieve REM sleep, a subconscious process that allows our bodies to essentially recharge. If you’re getting the same hours of sleep but still feeling exhausted and mentally drained during the day, that could be a sign that you have sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea can also present as gasping or choking in your sleep whenever your airway becomes obstructed. The lack of air can cause some people to feel agitated or stressed with seemingly no apparent reason upon waking.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

Many cases of sleep apnea are self-diagnosed by the partner you share your bed with, but sometimes it’s a little harder to pick up on the signs, especially if you sleep alone. If you’ve noticed changes in your sleeping habits for no discernable reason, scheduling an appointment with your doctor is a great next step. They’ll be able to provide you with more insight into your symptoms and, if they do believe it to be sleep disorder related, refer you to a sleep center, such as Elite Sleep.

Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

The great news is that sleep apnea is treatable. Multiple treatment options are available; it’s simply a matter of finding the one(s) that work best for you. Some of the most common sleep apnea treatment methods are:

  • Treating the underlying health condition causing your OSA. This is commonly used for people with OSA and can be as simple as changing the position in which you sleep to prevent your airway from being obstructed at night. Some other methods are quitting smoking to reduce the stress it puts on your respiratory system, and exercising more to strengthen your lungs and muscles.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This treatment method involves wearing a fitted mask that goes over your mouth and nose while you sleep. This mask is connected to a bedside machine that feeds a gentle and constant stream of air pressure that keeps your airway open, allowing you to breathe freely.
  • Oral appliances. For mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea, oral appliances are an effective treatment for OSA. These appliances help to readjust the position of your jaw and prevent your tongue from falling back into your airway while you sleep. It also helps to strengthen your throat muscles, allowing them to keep your airway open.
  • In rare cases, surgery may be required to physically reposition your jaw or remove excess tissue blocking your airway. However, this option is used as a last resort after all other treatment avenues have been exhausted.

How a Sleep Study Can Help

As mentioned previously, the diagnosis of sleep apnea is performed in sleep centers by sleep clinicians who can accurately assess the level and potential causes of your sleep apnea. At Elite Sleep, we are proud to be a locally owned and operated, full service sleep center providing the Pacific Northwest with outstanding care.

We offer sleep testing at our facility, where you’ll be greeted with a luxury hotel experience to ensure the best sleep experience possible. We also offer at home sleep testing as well for those who are more comfortable sleeping in their own bed. After the results of your sleep test are generated, we’ll meet with you to discuss treatment options and what the next steps will be. We’re committed to your long-term success, so if a treatment option stops working or we need to adjust things, we’re more than happy to do so.

The best part of all of this is that by being independently owned, we are able to avoid the typical 2-4 month waitlist period you’ll find at other sleep centers, as well as further delays caused by waiting to be scheduled again to review your results. At Elite Sleep, the typical timeframe you can expect is a fraction of that, with an average of 6 weeks from start to finish. It’s easy to get started; simply fill out our form on our website or give us a call at 425-437-3311. We’d love to help get you back to a full night’s sleep.