Dear Dr. Roach: How are sleep apnea, sighing and heart failure related? Recently, I was told that I have severe sleep apnea and that I must use a CPAP machine. I have noticed that during the day I frequently take a spontaneous deep breath. Is that sleep apnea while awake? I have coronary heart disease and have three stents. Will the CPAP machine help me in any way? A.P.
Answer: Its complicated.
By far, the most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. This happens in people who are overweight, or in people whose neck anatomy predisposes them to the condition. During sleep, the upper airway collapses, preventing proper inspiration. This can be noticed by a sleep partner as choking, gasping or just not breathing for a prolonged time. The person eventually will wake up enough, due to lack of oxygen, to be able to take in a good breath, but will then fall back asleep. The process may happen hundreds of times a night, with the person often unaware. Sleepiness during the day (from never sleeping properly at night) and snoring are the most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), which uses high pressure to keep the airway open, is the most common initial treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.