Sleep Apnea

If you are concerned about symptoms associated with sleep apnea, please discuss them with your doctor and then contact us to learn about sleep apnea treatments at INTEGRIS Sleep Disorders Center of Oklahoma: 405-636-7700 or Toll-Free 888-53-SLEEP

Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening condition that is far more common than people would expect. An estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea in some form.

Oklahomans with sleep apnea are in good hands at INTEGRIS Sleep Center of Oklahoma, with our board-certified sleep experts who see hundreds of sleep apnea patients each year providing treatment and medical intervention to our patients suffering from this sleep disorder.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep and occurs in all age groups and both genders. It is more common in men, although it may be underdiagnosed in women and some minorities.


Jonathan Schwartz, M.D., Medical Director of the INTEGRIS Sleep Disorders Center of Oklahoma describes sleep apnea.


There are two major forms of sleep apnea:

  • Less common central sleep apnea occurs when the brain doesn’t send the appropriate signals to the muscles to initiate breathing.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea arises when air is unable to flow in or out of the person's nose or mouth although efforts to breathe continue.

Early diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea are important, as it is associated with irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, sleepiness, and increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.

Sleep apnea runs in some families, suggesting a possible genetic link. Some cases are associated with physical factors such as sinus formation or facial structure.

People most likely to develop sleep apnea include those who:

  • Snore loudly
  • Are overweight
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have some physical abnormality in the nose, throat, or other parts of the upper airway

Sleep apnea patients using alcohol and sleeping pills are at risk of increasing the frequency and duration of breathing pauses.

Certain mechanical and structural problems in the airway cause the interruptions in breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea occurs when:

  • The throat muscles and tongue relax during sleep and partially block the opening of the airway.
  • The muscles of the soft palate at the base of the tongue and the uvula relax and sag, and the airway becomes blocked - making breathing labored and noisy and sometimes even stopping it altogether.
  • An excess amount of tissue in the airway causes it to be narrowed (associated with obesity).
  • A person with a narrowed airway continues his or her efforts to breathe, but air cannot easily flow into or out of the nose or mouth.

Sleep apnea is characterized by a number of involuntary breathing pauses during sleep. There may be as many as 20 to 30 or more apneic events per hour. These events are generally accompanied by snoring between apnea episodes (although not everyone who snores has sleep apnea).

During these breathing pauses, the person is unable to breathe in oxygen and to exhale carbon dioxide, resulting in low levels of oxygen and increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. The reduction in oxygen and increase in carbon dioxide alerts the brain to resume breathing and cause an arousal. With each arousal, a signal is sent from the brain to the upper airway muscles to open the airway. Breathing often continues, often with a loud snort or gasp. Frequent awakenings, although necessary for breathing to restart, prevent a person from getting enough restorative, deep sleep.

Frequent interruptions of deep, restorative sleep often lead to headaches and excessive daytime sleepiness. Patients may also experience choking sensations.

Several tests are available at INTEGRIS Sleep Centers of Oklahoma to test a patient for sleep apnea, including:

  • Polysomnography: A test that records a variety of body functions during sleep, such as the electrical activity of the brain, eye movement, muscle activity, heart rate, respiratory effort, air flow, and blood oxygen levels.
  • Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT): A test that measures the speed of falling asleep. People without sleep problems usually take an average of 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep. Individuals who fall asleep in less than five minutes are likely to require some type of treatment for sleep disorders.

Diagnostic tests are usually performed at the INTEGRIS Sleep Center, but new technology may allow some sleep studies to be conducted at home.

Diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea is not easy because it can have many different causes. Our sleep experts at INTEGRIS Sleep Center may consult with primary care doctors, pulmonologists, neurologists, or other doctors to diagnose sleep apnea and customize a treatment plan.

Therapy for sleep apnea is individualized for each patient, and may include:

  • Behavioral changes are an important part of a treatment program. In mild cases of sleep apnea, behavioral therapy may be all that is needed. The patient may be advised to:
    • Avoid the use of alcohol.
    • Avoid the use of tobacco.
    • Avoid the use of sleeping pills.
    • Lose weight if overweight (a 10 % weight loss can significantly reduce the number of apneic events).
    • Use pillows and other devices to help sleep in a side position.
  • Physical or mechanical therapy, including nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This is a procedure in which the patient wears a mask over the nose during sleep, and pressure from an air blower guides air through the nasal passages. Dental appliances that reposition the lower jaw and the tongue are helpful to some patients with mild sleep apnea, or those who snore but do not have apnea.
  • Some patients with sleep apnea may need surgery. Procedures could include:
    • Common surgical procedures to remove adenoids and tonsils, nasal polyps, or other growths or tissue in the airway, and correction of structural deformities.
    • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is a procedure used to remove excess tissue at the back of the throat (tonsils, uvula, and part of the soft palate).
    • Surgical reconstruction for deformities of the lower jaw may benefit some patients.
    • Surgical procedures to treat obesity are sometimes recommended for sleep apnea patients who are morbidly obese.
  • Oxygen administration may safely benefit certain patients.

In most cases medication, is not an effective treatment for sleep apnea.

Your Sleep Centers of Oklahoma sleep specialist will design a treatment plan based on:

  • Age, overall health, and medical history
  • Severity of the disease
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Patient preferences

© 2017 INTEGRIS Health Pencil
Oklahoma's largest hospital network
3300 N.W. Expressway
Oklahoma City, OK 73112 Phone: (405) 951-2277
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