Unlike sleep apnea where you have obstruction, apnea, then arousal, UARS patients typically have mostly obstructions and then arousals. As mentioned previously, all UARS patients have some form of fatigue, almost all state that they are “light sleepers,” and almost invariably, they don’t like to sleep on their backs. In some cases, they actually can’t. Some people attribute their poor quality sleep to insomnia, stress or working too much. Due to repetitive arousals at night, especially during the deeper levels of sleep, one is unable to get the required deep, restorative sleep that one needs to feel refreshed in the morning. In most cases, the anatomic reason for this collapse is the tongue. There are many reasons for the tongue to cause obstruction including being too large or being overweight. But once it occurs, the only thing you can do is to wake up.
In deeper levels of sleep, especially during REM sleep, the normal protective layers of muscle tone that keeps your airway open during inspiration diminishes. So, if your airway is normal to begin with and you take a deep breath in, a vacuum-like pressure is set up and the back of your tongue can fall back completely.
When awake, you’re fine, but once you start to fall asleep, the tongue falls back and you wake up, either fully or subconsciously. This is why so many people can’t fall asleep on their backs and therefore, have unconsciously trained themselves to roll over to their side or their stomach where the tongue collapse is less likely, although it can still happen. This can happen 10, 20 or 30 times every hour preventing you from sustaining deep sleep. You may realize that you are waking up sometimes, but the vast majority of arousals are subconscious. If this happens for a few nights in a row and you return to your normal sleep habits, you’re fine. But if it occurs continuously for months or years, then certain events can happen.
Due to repetitive arousals, your body goes into almost a chronic state of low-grade stress. Think of what would happen if somebody poked you with their finger every few minutes while you tried to sleep for 6 months straight. Think about how you would feel the next morning. Think about how you would feel after months or years of inefficient sleep. You would feel tired, groggy with no motivation to do anything, have focus or concentration problems, or, you could feel depressed.
In general, UARS is treated like sleep apnea. In general, the options are nasal breathing optimization, dental appliances, CPAP, or surgery, as a last resort.