Science has yet to reach consensus on exactly why people need sleep, but there is little debate that sleep is critical to health.
Since the most common sleep disorders originate in the head and neck, diagnosing and managing airway-related sleep problems falls within the responsibility of ear, nose and throat specialists - otolaryngologists.
The Mass. Eye and Ear medical staff includes ear, nose and throat physicians with special experience and expertise in sleep problems. They are trained and equipped to investigate and treat airway-related sleep disorders – most commonly obstructive sleep apnea and snoring.
Investigating and managing sleep apnea
Though they are linked, snoring and sleep apnea do not always occur together. While up to half those with sleep apnea also snore, not all people who snore have sleep apnea.
The term apnea means “to stop breathing.” Sleep apnea describes a condition where the breathing stops during sleep. When breathing is interrupted, all kinds of problems can result – with reduced oxygen levels putting a strain on the heart and lungs. At its worse, the lack of oxygen can cause the heart to beat in an irregular rhythm, which can be life threatening.
Sleep apnea can lead to or aggravate serious health effects, including cardiovascular problems, depression, headaches, hypertension and job performance.
Sleep apnea interrupts sleep. Though the apnea sufferer does not necessarily wake up completely, episodes of restricted breathing will result in sleep fragmentation – repeated arousal of the brain, from deep to light sleep, reducing the total of deep, restorative sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea refers to the source of the breathing interruption, an obstruction in the throat and upper airway. The throat actually closes through a combination of lying down and relaxation of the muscles in the throat during sleep.
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