Why is sleep so important?
Scientists don’t really know why we have health problems related to sleep loss. Changes in the levels of hormones the body releases during sleep could play a part, as could the simple strain of staying awake. Upsetting the strong need for sleep from our own internal clocks, loss of the deepest stages of our sleep and other factors may all play a role.1
Sleep apnea: A widespread cause of poor sleep
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing stops and starts during sleep. It raises your risk for stroke, obesity, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure.2 There are several types of sleep apnea, but the most common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Anyone may develop it, but it is most seen in middle-aged and older adults, as well as in people who are overweight.3
Symptoms may include daytime sleepiness, loud snoring, your partner noticing when you stop breathing during sleep, morning headaches, trouble thinking during the day and depression or irritability.
OSA occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax too much to allow normal breathing. Your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in, which may lower the level of oxygen in your blood. Your brain senses this lack of breathing and briefly wakes you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway. This awakening is usually so brief that you don’t remember it.
If you have OSA, treatment may involve continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A CPAP machine is a device with a face mask attached to a small pump. The pressure of the air breathed is constant and a little stronger than that of the surrounding air, which is just enough to keep your upper airways open. The CPAP also comes in a nonmask version with tubes that fit over your nose.4