Sleep Apnea

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common and serious sleep disorder in which you have one or more involuntary pauses (apneic events) in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. Sleep apnea usually is a chronic (ongoing) condition that disrupts your sleep. When your breathing pauses or becomes shallow, you’ll often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep. These events are usually accompanied by snoring between apnea episodes. Sleep apnea may also be characterized by choking sensations. During the apneic event, you can’t breathe in oxygen or exhale carbon dioxide. This results in low levels of oxygen and increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. This alerts the brain to resume breathing and cause an arousal. With each arousal, a signal is sent from the brain to the upper airway muscles to open the airway. Breathing is resumed, often with a loud snort or gasp. Frequent arousals, although necessary for breathing to restart, prevent restorative, deep sleep. As a result, the quality of your sleep is poor, which makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness.
The main types of sleep apnea are:
  • Obstructive sleep apnea happens when air can’t flow into or out of the nose or mouth although efforts to breathe continue. In this condition, the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep. This causes shallow breathing or breathing pauses. When you try to breathe, any air that squeezes past the blockage can cause loud snoring. Breathing usually resumes with a loud gasp or body jerk. These episodes can interfere with sound sleep, reduce the flow of oxygen to vital organs, and cause heart rhythm irregularities. 
  • Central sleep apnea, the airway is not blocked but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe due to instability in the respiratory control center. As a result, you'll make no effort to breathe for brief periods. It is less common than obstructive sleep apnea and snoring typically doesn't happen with central sleep apnea.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Risk factors
Obstructive sleep apnea:
  • Excess weight. Fat deposits around your upper airway may obstruct your breathing. 
  • Neck circumference. People with thicker necks may have narrower airways. 
  • A narrowed airway. You may have inherited a naturally narrow throat. Or, tonsils or adenoids may become enlarged and block the airway, particularly in children with sleep apnea.
  • Being male. Men are twice as likely to have sleep apnea. 
  • Being older. Sleep apnea occurs significantly more often in older adults.
  • Family history. If you have family members with sleep apnea, you may be at increased risk.
  • Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers. These substances relax the muscles in your throat.
  • Smoking. Smoking may increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway. 
  • Nasal congestion. If you have difficulty breathing through your nose you're more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.
Central sleep apnea:
  • Being older. Middle-aged and older people have a higher risk of central sleep apnea.
  • Heart disorders. People with congestive heart failure are more at risk of central sleep apnea.
  • Using narcotic pain medications. Opioid medications increase the risk of central sleep apnea.
  • Stroke. People who've had a stroke are more at risk of central sleep apnea or treatment-emergent central sleep apnea.
Several tests for evaluating sleep apnea include:
  • Nocturnal polysomnography monitors a variety of body functions during sleep, such as the electrical activity of the brain, eye movement, muscle activity, heart rate, respiratory effort, airflow, and blood oxygen levels.
  • Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT) measures the speed of falling asleep. People who fall asleep in less than 5 minutes are likely to need some type of treatment for sleep disorders.
  • Home sleep tests measure heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow and breathing patterns. The test results will show drops in the oxygen level during apneas and subsequent rises with awakenings if you have sleep apnea. 
Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that requires long-term management. The goals of successfully treating sleep apnea are to restore regular breathing during sleep and relieve symptoms such as loud snoring and daytime sleepiness.
  • Sleep apnea occurs in about 25% of men and nearly 10% of women. 
  • People who are obese have 4x the risk of sleep apnea than people who are a normal weight.
  • Smokers are 3x more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than are people who've never smoked.
  • It is estimated that as many as 18 million Americans have sleep apnea.
about sleep apnea

  • "What Is Sleep Apnea?" National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 10 July 2012. Web. 18 May 2017.
  • "Sleep Apnea." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 25 Aug. 2015. Web. 18 May 2017.
  • "Sleep Apnea." Sleep Apnea | Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Johns Hopkins Health System, n.d. Web. 18 May 2017.
  • "Sleep Apnea Symptoms, Treatment & More | Cleveland Clinic: Health Library." Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 18 May 2017.


World Sleep Day is an annual event organized by the World Sleep Day Committee of the World Association of Sleep Medicine (WASM) since 2008. Its purpose is to celebrate the benefits of good and healthy sleep and to draw society’s attention to the burden of sleep problems and their medicine, education, social aspects, and driving; as well as to promote the prevention and management of sleep disorders.
world sleep day


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