Does the prospect of having to wear CPAP each night, every night, for the foreseeable future keep you from sleeping? A new study holds out the promise of one day being able to treat obstructive sleep apnea with a pill, instead of CPAP.
Obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which the muscles of the throat relax to the point that the throat actually collapses, blocking airflow to the lungs, and resulting in dozens, even hundreds of awakenings at night, is a condition from which millions of Americans suffer.
As anyone who has ever carried a sleeping child to his bed well knows, muscle relaxation is part of sleep. What is less commonly appreciated, however, is that this relaxation is especially prominent in a stage of sleep known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. In REM, we lose muscle tone in almost all of our muscles, except for our eye muscles (hence its name) and our diaphragm, the largest muscle involved in breathing. On the one hand, this is a good thing: if not, we’d be running into walls and tripping over night tables as we acted out our dreams. On the other hand, this loss of muscle tone extends to the muscles of our throat, making them more prone to collapse, and making us especially prone to OSA during this sleep state, which comprises 25 percent of sleep.