Sleep is essential to life; it is one of several components, including food and water, which keep the living alive. However, a significant percentage of the human population has considerable difficulty reaching and maintaining Stage IV within their sleeping patterns, the stage that allows the mind and body to fall into a deep and restorative sleep, otherwise known as REM sleep. At the core of this difficulty is a condition known as obstructive sleep apnea, a "serious, potentially life-threatening condition that is far more common than generally understood" (Sleep Apnea). Indeed, obstructive sleep apnea can be very dangerous if it is not properly detected and treated.
What is Sleep Apnea? Research findings indicate that nearly eighteen million Americans suffer with the dangerous and exhausting effects of sleep apnea, in which "certain mechanical and structural problems in the airway cause the interruptions in breathing during sleep" (Sleep Apnea). It is important for the student to know that telltale signs of a potential problem include loud snoring, obesity, high blood pressure and a physical blockage of the nose, throat or upper airway. Its prevalence appears to be genetic to some degree; however, its appearance in overweight patients also indicates that its composition is rooted in both genetics and environment.
Sleep apnea occurs in two separate modes: central and obstructive, with central sleep apnea being less common between the two. The brain fails to send proper signals to the breathing muscles as a means by which to commence respirations during sleep in central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea, on the other hand, is significantly more Common, transpiring at the point when air is obstructed from flowing into or out of the nose or mouth, "characterized by repetitive episodes of upper airway obstruction that occur during sleep, usually associated with a reduction in blood oxygen saturation" (Obstructive Sleep Apnea).