Science of Sleep Part 1: Understanding obstructive sleep apnea

Published: Jun. 18, 2018 at 10:43 AM CDT
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More than 70 million adults have trouble getting a good night's sleep, and most don't even know they have an issue until someone speaks up.

Snoring is a common problem among adults that you often hear about from your spouse or other family members. But there's another, more concerning sleep disorder that people are starting to pay attention to.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition where a person's airway is closing off, blocking oxygen from getting to their brain. Those who have sleep apnea will have dozens of "mini awakenings" throughout the night, posing a serious health risk to the individual.

So how can you find out whether you're just a loud obnoxious snorer, or if you have a potentially deadly sleep disorder?

First, you meet with a pulmonologist and lung specialist like Dr. Scott Spencer with CHI St. Joseph Health. He is board certified in Sleep Medicine and says most people come to him for the same reasons.

"80% of men who come here is because their wife is making them. If you think about it, if you're snoring that loud that you and your spouse can't sleep in bed together...that's a sever stress on your body too," said Dr. Spencer.

Before getting an official sleep study done, patients have to fill out the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, which gauges how tired you are in certain situations. If you reach a certain number, the doctor will have enough reason to order you a sleep study, which can help detect everything from narcolepsy to obstructive sleep apnea.

"In some people, sleep apnea is weight related," said Dr. Spencer. "In others though it's genetic. Maybe their chin is set further back and that pushes the tongue and the rest of the structures to the back of the throat when you relax, and fall asleep especially if you fall asleep on your back."

The lung specialist will also measure your neck and check the back of your throat to see whether or not your tongue is blocking your airway.

Sleep apnea affects blood pressure, weight, blood sugar/diabetes, your mood and increases your risk for heart attack, stroke and heart failure.

Tune into BVTM on KBTX at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, to learn more about overnight sleep studies and the types of answers you can uncover.