Before diagnosing sleep apnea you must understand what it is. Sleep apnea occurs when someone has completely stopped breathing for 10 seconds or more while they are sleeping. Sometimes these apnea episodes completely wake a person, other times they just bring someone to a shallow level of sleep from a deep level. This interrupted sleep may not be noticed by the person with the sleep apnea, instead it may alert your bed partner. There are two types of sleep apnea: central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain doesn’t send the signal to breathe to the breathing muscles. This is more common in people with brain injuries or heart diseases. Obstructive sleep apnea means the airway has actually been obstructed by your tongue going backwards or enlarged tonsils. Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder.
If you have symptoms of sleep apnea your doctor may ask you to have a sleep apnea test done at a sleep disorder center. This test would be done after a physical exam and medical history. People who have sleep apnea in their family history are at a higher risk for sleep apnea themselves. A sleep study (polysomnogram) is a multiple-component test that electronically transmits and records specific physical activities while you are sleeping. In a polysomnogram an EEG is used to record brain wave activity, an EMG records such things as teeth grinding, an EOG to record eye movements which tells the sleep stage you are in, an EKG for your heart rate, a nasal airflow sensor to record airflow, and a snore microphone records your snoring activity. All of these results are then read by a sleep specialist and given to your doctor to determine if you have sleep apnea.
If you have a mild case of obstructive sleep apnea you may be able to fix the problem by doing some behavioral changes. These changes include changing your position while sleeping; sometimes apneas occur only in a certain position which is usually lying flat on your back. Obesity is a contributive factor to obstructive sleep apnea. Losing 10% of your body weight would improve your sleep apnea. Some people with sleep apnea find this hard to do because the sleep loss leaves them too tired to exercise; in turn making them gain more weight which worsens the sleep apnea. If the apnea is treated a different way it usually leads to people being able to lose weight since they won’t be as tired.