Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person stops breathing several times while they are sleeping. In some cases, the patient "forgets" to breathe normally, while in other situations, an obstruction, such as the tongue or other tissues, block the person's airways, preventing them from taking regular breaths. When a person stops breathing, they often jolt themselves awake as the body realizes it is not receiving the oxygen it needs. Individuals who have sleep apnea have decreased levels of oxygen in the blood and will often be more susceptible to illness because they do not get sufficient amounts of sleep to keep the immune system working correctly.
A CPAP machine provides "Continuous Positive Air Pressure" that helps patients maintain normal breathing patterns while they are sleeping. The patient wears a special mask that fits over their mouth and nose while they are sleeping. The machine sends a continual flow of positive air pressure through the mask that helps a person maintain normal respiration. By keeping the oxygen pressure steady, the person is able to achieve a much deeper sleep that allows oxygen levels in the blood to remain within normal range. Using a CPAP machine helps a patient wake up the next morning feeling rested and more alert.
CPAP machines are not the only way to treat sleep apnea. Doctors advise patients who are overweight to lose excess pounds that will eventually take the pressure off of the neck, chest, and diaphragm, allowing them to breathe more naturally. Technological advancements have also produced devices that act much like a pacemaker for the heart. They are implanted in the neck and chest and will actually stimulate the muscles involved in the breathing process to continue to work as they should. In some cases, surgery may be used to remove excess tissue that has built up in the throat and sinuses that block the airways.