Sleep apnea is thought to affect around 22 million adult Americans, largely undiagnosed. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, around 70% of people diagnosed with sleep apnea are overweight or obese. Low levels of OSA are considered to be within the bounds of normal sleep. Many individuals experience episodes of mild sleep apnea (AHI <5) at some point in their life. Fortunately a smaller percentage of people are afflicted with chronic (AHI 5-14), moderate (AHI 15-29) or severe (AHI >30) sleep apnea.
One question that we are often asked is “How can 22 million people suffer from sleep apnea without knowing it?” A good question…the answer is that it is a very insidious disease. For most, you simply don’t know that you have stopped breathing while sleeping. You don’t remember waking up when your body’s protective mechanism kicks in to tell you that you are suffocating and you have to breath, waking you. These events are what are called “micro-arousals”. Because micro arousals are so short (a second or two) they don’t go into long-term memory. So you can choke and wake up hundreds of times per night and not remember it!
For others the waking event can be very traumatic. These events are characterized by waking with your heart pounding literally choking struggling to breath. But most people are unaware of the cause and this and are simply frightened by it. Without treatment many suffering these kind of events develop serious insomnia through a fear of sleeping.