Sleep apnea is a common but serious sleep disorder. The muscles surrounding the throat don’t generate enough force to keep your airways open during sleep. A characteristic finding is repetitive periods when air flow is interrupted (“apneas” and “hypopneas”), often accompanied by drops in oxygen level and/or interruption of sleep.
These multiple breathing interruptions prevent you from sleeping well, leaving you feeling extra tired during the day. The disorder can also place a stress on your heart and other organs due to the recurrent drops in oxygen levels, which can cause abnormalities in blood pressure, levels of hormones, inflammation, and other changes. There are many possible consequences of sleep apnea, and these can vary a lot across people. You may experience daytime fatigue or sleepiness, problems thinking and concentrating, and mood problems. Untreated sleep apnea may increase risk of motor vehicles crashes or work-related accidents, poor control of blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and liver problems.
The most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when the soft tissues in the back of the throat relaxes during sleep and blocks the airway, often causing you to snore loudly. Since sleep apnea only occurs while you are asleep, you may not know you have a problem until a bed partner or roommate complains about your snoring.
Central Sleep Apnea
A much less common type of sleep apnea but is more common in people with heart failure or who have had a stroke. There are also rare genetic disorders and diseases of the brain and muscles that cause central sleep apnea. In central sleep apnea, breathing can be interrupted when the brain fails to signal the muscles that control breathing.
Complex Sleep Apnea
A combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. It is also referred to as “treatment emergent sleep apnea” since it may occur early during the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. More information on this disorder can be found here.
Who is at Risk?
Anyone can have sleep apnea, regardless of age, sex or body type. However, having any of the following factors may put you at increased risk:
The following is a list of common symptoms or signs of sleep apnea. Some people have several and others have only one or two of these symptoms. Sleep apnea is not always recognized, so if you have any of these symptoms or problems it may be helpful to discuss your risk of sleep apnea with your doctor.
Loud or frequent snoring
Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — either waking you up or reported by a person who observed you.
Gasping for air during sleep
Daytime tiredness or exhaustion
Waking up feeling unrefreshed
Poorly controlled blood pressure
Waking with a dry mouth
Difficulty staying asleep
Excessive daytime sleepiness
Difficulty paying attention or trouble concentrating