Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome

What is it? Do I have it?

Apnea means the absence of breath. An apnea during sleep (sleep apnea) is measured if it lasts 10 seconds or more, and are counted throughout the night to give us a figure. This number is called the RDI, or respiratory disturbance index and is an average of respiratory disturbances (usually apneas) during sleep per hour.

The RDI is considered normal if it is 5 or less. An RDI of 5-20 is mild, moderate when the frequency is 20-40, and severe at 40 and above. Often apneas are accompanied by short awakenings called arousals, drops in the patients oxygen level (desaturations), and very often loud snoring and gasps for breath.

Repeated several times per hour these apneas can cause a person to have many irritating symptoms such as: morning headaches, sore throat/dry mouth, increasing irritability, memory loss, grogginess or confusion, moodiness, difficulty concentrating, frequent night time urination, weight gain, constant fatigue and sleepiness.

Sleep apnea has also been known to play a part in aggravating and possibly causing medical conditions such as depression, essential hypertension, strokes and congestive heart failure.

Apneas are generally caused by a lack of upper airway firmness during sleep. This results in the airway collapsing or partially collapsing, cutting off airflow to the lungs, which provides much needed oxygen to the heart, brain, kidneys, liver and other vital organs. The airway is opened again either by the force of the patient trying to take a breath (resulting in gasping or snoring), or by the patient awakening enough to restore muscle tone to that area.

Do you have the any of the symptoms mentioned above? Are you often sleepy after getting 7-8 hours of sleep? Complete the following scale to see how sleepy you rank, add them up and rank yourself against the chart below.

0 = would never doze
1 = slight chance of dozing
2 = moderate chance of dozing
3 = high chance of dozing

Situation Chance of Dozing
Sitting and reading 0 1 2 3
Watching TV 0 1 2 3
Sitting inactive in a public place (e.g. a theater
or a meeting)
0 1 2 3
As a passenger in a car for an hour without a
0 1 2 3
Lying down to rest in the afternoon when circumstances permit 0 1 2 3
Sitting and talking to someone 0 1 2 3
Sitting quietly after a lunch without alcohol 0 1 2 3
In a car while stopped for a few minutes in traffic 0 1 2 3

 The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is used to determine the level of daytime sleepiness.  A score of 10 or more is considered sleepy.  A score of 16 or more is very sleepy.

If you score 10 or more on this test, you should make sure you are averaging eight or more hours of sleep a night, and if still sleepy, you may need to see a sleep specialist.  These issues should be discussed with your personal physician.


Snoring is the same as sleep apnea.  FALSE!
Snoring is the vibrating of the upper palate; sleep apnea is the complete blockage of air.

Drinking alcohol at night will help you get a good nights sleep.  FALSE!
Alcohol will help initiate sleep, and may make you feel really sleepy, but during the night it will cause sleep fragmentation.