OSA is a chronic disease which results in poor airflow to the lungs while sleeping. As the airway constricts or fully collapses, oxygen levels in the blood fall and our built in alarm system is activated to prevent death. This “fight or flight” response causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and our stress hormones and as a result, we wake enough to reposition our jaw and open up the airway. Obviously this disrupts our sleep and prevents us from achieving that deep level of sleep which allows us to wake refreshed and rejuvenated.
Snoring is the first sign of OSA but is often dismissed until the episodes of no breathing begin. Bed partners often count 20-30 seconds or more before their loved one gasps back to life. After repositioning the jaw we can fall asleep again but the next episode may occur in a matter of minutes and this happens all night long.
Until we get the right diagnosis and begin effective treatment we spend each night fighting to stay alive. Our heart rate and blood pressure are elevated throughout the night, we never get refreshing sleep, we awake groggy and throughout the day are sluggish and moody. After lunch we are sleepy and unproductive. Because of this we are at great risk of accidents, arguments and serious health risks. The lethargy which ensues increases appetite hormones and decreases our desire to exercise. We gain weight and we increase the severity of the obstructive sleep apnea. We have entered into a vicious cycle which cannot be broken until we regain the ability to get proper sleep.