You’ve never heard of Sleep Apnea? It’s time to learn more.

Sleep apnea is a debilitating and life-shortening condition that is estimated to affect as many as 22 million people in the United States – and most don’t know it! Untreated, sleep apnea can contribute to other serious ailments like depression, heart disease, diabetes, and more.

Sleep apnea is an involuntary cessation of breathing that happens when you are sleeping. Yes, you read that correctly – you, unknowingly, stop breathing in your sleep. Unsurprisingly, that is not good for your health!

The Three Types of Sleep Apnea:

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. With obstructive sleep apnea, there is a blockage of the airway – most of the time, this happens when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and closes the airway while you are sleeping. Central sleep apnea occurs when the airway remains open, but the brain doesn’t signal the muscles to breathe. As the name implies, mixed sleep apnea is a combination of the two. With each apnea event, the brain partially wakes the sleeper, signaling breathing to resume. Because of this, sleep is interrupted all night long, and sleep quality is extremely poor.

Sleep Apnea: Symptoms to Watch For

Major symptoms of sleep apnea can include extremely loud snoring (sometimes so bad that bed partners find it intolerable), obesity, frequent sleepiness during the daytime, waking up out of breath in the middle of the night, and waking up with a dry mouth or headache. Sleep apnea cannot be self-diagnosed, so if you (or someone you love) has any of the symptoms above, a sleep study may be necessary to show whether sleep apnea is present (and how severe it may be).

Treating Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is more common than people tent to realize – and it can, in most cases, be easily treated if diagnosed. The most common treatment is the use of a “positive airway pressure machine” which uses a mask over the nose (or nose and mouth) during sleep to keep a continuous or intermittent pressurized air flow through the throat. This increased air pressure prevents the airway from collapsing.

If you think that you – or someone you love – may be affected by sleep apnea, consult a doctor to discuss any symptoms and to possibly schedule a sleep study.