Shift Your Thinking

Have you ever had a shift in your thinking? You know, one day you saw the world and life in this direction, but through a series of events or discovery of newfound insight, your worldview changed.

Of course you have, everyone does at one point, probably at several points. Education about sleep can work the same way. Without further ado here’s my thesis statement for this article: why sleep apnea occurs and how CPAP treats it.

Meet my neighbor

But before we talk about it I would like to introduce my neighbor to you. I won’t actually give you his name, because his name isn’t important, his story is. A couple of years ago, I needed to drop off a check at his house and through a friendly chat he found out I’m a sleep tech. He began to talk about his sleep machine (CPAP) through our conversation and I found out he didn’t know the reason he was wearing it.

Thank goodness he continued to wear his “sleep machine” despite his lack of knowledge. My point isn’t to pick on him or the people who gave him the machine, but rather to educate those whose machine is looking dusty in the corner of the room.

Why does sleep apnea occur?

Obstructive sleep apnea is defined by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine as sleep-related breathing disorder that involves a decrease or complete halt in airflow despite an ongoing effort to breathe. It occurs when the muscles relax during sleep, causing soft tissue in the back of the throat to collapse and block the upper airway.1

So in layman terms, when a person is asleep, gravity and muscle relaxation allow the tongue and surrounding soft tissue such as the uvula and tonsils to block the airflow. An example similar to this could be the kinked hose. Remember the times when the water is so free-flowing and then suddenly nothing? All the water is there, but no flow. Same thing with sleep apnea, a pause in the breathing, but the breath is there. The problem is it’s been walled off or "kinked” by the tongue and soft tissue surrounding it. The key is to break through it with a breathing machine (CPAP) as my neighbor friend said.

Treatment not a cure

It’s important to note before examining how the CPAP works that CPAP is a treatment, not a cure. What do I mean by treatment? It works when you wear it, but if you sleep without the CPAP the apnea comes back. A cure gives the idea of completed or accomplished. So how do we unkink the hose so to speak? As the air comes in from the mask it lifts and pushes forward the tongue and soft tissue allowing breathing to happen on a continuous basis.

Sound smart material

You might be curious to know how you eventually start breathing again. Obviously you don’t hold your breath for 8 hours. After you hold your breath for a period of time (about 30-40 seconds, definitely can vary) you’ll frequently wake up for a few seconds. In that moment, you’ll retain your breathing until your next apneic event.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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