However, SDB comprises more than just a series of sleep apnea events. Indeed, you can suffer from extremely severe SDB without ever once stopping breathing. How could this be so? The answer is quite simple if you think about this analogy: a sleep apnea event is similar to a choking episode in which you stop breathing, say from inhaling a piece of food into your windpipe. This obstruction will surely produce intense fear if not outright panic in most people, bringing them to absolute alertness to solve the problem and solve it fast.
SDB can produce a response this severe when the airway closes down and all breathing stops, but to continue the analogy, how do you think you would react when you "choke a little?" I'm sure you guessed that it would still be very uncomfortable, and that's why SDB is often misunderstood and why the term sleep apnea is misleading. As you will learn, SDB can include a whole range of sleep breathing events in which you don't stop breathing, but your effort to bring in a full breath is compromised. Two events described below are usually more common than apneas in most patients with SDB:
Hypopneas: In this event instead of a complete cessation of breathing, you lose about 50% of your normal breath, which unsurprisingly is more than sufficient to trigger sleep fragmentation and to cause your oxygen to fluctuate or desaturate.
Flow Limitation: In this event, the airway experiences resistance, which is diffiucult to quantity, but it might be reasonable to consider these events as a 10% reduction. Yet even this small reduction of breathing (a wee bit of choking) can still cause sleep fragmentation and oxygen fluctuations.
So, to reiterate, you will understand this condition much better and make better decisions about your healtcare choices by recognizing that when you suffer from SDB, it might be only apneas (sleep apnea), only hypopneas or only flow limitations or as in most cases, some combination of all three event types. But even if you only suffer flow limitation events, they can cause severe sleep fragmentation and constant oxygen fluctuations that damage your sleep along with your mental and physical health.