Sleep apnea is a common disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during the night. One of the leading causes of snoring, sleep apnea isn’t just annoying – it can have serious health consequences. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of the disorder, and is caused by airway blockage. This type of sleep apnea can affect anyone, although it is more common in overweight individuals. Another type of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea, which is caused by faulty signaling in the part of the brain that controls breathing. Many sleep apnea sufferers have a combination of both kinds.

Sleep apnea is often first detected through snoring, as the bed partners of sleep apnea sufferers are often kept up or wakened by snoring throughout the night. Although snoring in itself is problematic, it’s not the only reason to take sleep apnea seriously: left untreated, sleep apnea can cause or exacerbate heart problems, diabetes, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, and other ailments.

For older adults, a group among whom insomnia is particularly prevalent, sleep apnea can worsen the condition and further compromise sleep. Because high quality sleep is vital in retaining memory, motor function, coordination, and emotional health, it is especially important for seniors to address insomnia. One of the best ways to insure a good night’s sleep is to treat sleep apnea as soon as it is suspected, as well as exploring the root causes of the condition.

The first line of treatment for sleep apnea usually involves lifestyle changes, such as smoking cessation, weight-loss, and avoiding alcohol, muscle relaxers, and other drugs that may compromise the airway by relaxing the central nervous system. Mechanical treatments, such as special mouth appliances, pillows, and supports, can also be used. If these approaches don’t work, surgical intervention, or the use of special machines that keep the airway open by blowing pressurized air through a face mask, may be indicated.

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