What is Sleep Apnea

Getting a good night’s sleep and waking up refreshed can help you fully enjoy your daily activities. Treating sleep apnea can enhance your sleep quality, boost your energy levels, and improve your overall health.

Consequences When You Have Sleep Apnea?

When you have sleep apnea, your airflow stops for 10 seconds or longer, causing you to stop breathing. This drop in blood oxygen levels triggers your brain to wake you up just enough to take a breath, and then the cycle repeats.

This can happen over 30 times an hour without you knowing. The constant interruptions strain your body, leaving you feeling exhausted the next day. Sleep apnea is more than an inconvenience—if if left untreated, it can have serious long-term health effects. It's a common condition, affecting 3 in 10 men and nearly 1 in 5 women.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when your upper airways become blocked or partially blocked during sleep, usually in the nose or throat. Common causes include:

    • Being overweight, which adds fat around your neck and airway
    • Inflamed tonsils or adenoids
    • A blocked nose due to allergies or a cold
    • Structural issues with the shape of your nose, nect, or jaw
    • Using sleeping tablets or sedatives
    • Smoking
    • Sleeping on your work

    Loud snoring, gasping for breath, and daytime tiredness are common signs of obstructive sleep apnea, although some people with this condition don't snore much at all.

  • Central sleep apnea is less common and occurs when your brain fails to signal your body to breathe. Since it doesn't typically cause noticeable snoring, it often goes undetected.

  • Mixed sleep apnea occurs when you have both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Severity of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe based on the number of apnea events per hour. An apnea event is a complete or partial loss of breath lasting at least 10 seconds. Complete loss of breath is called apnea, while partial loss is hypopnea. A home sleep test can diagnose sleep apnea:

  1. Normal sleep: Fewer than 5 events per hour
  2. Mild sleep apnea: 5 to 14 events per hour
  3. Moderate sleep apnea: 15 to 29 events per hour
  4. Severe sleep apnea: 30 or more events per hour

Your Apnea/Hypopnea Index (AHI) score from the test helps determine the best treatment options for you. Learn more about sleep apnea treatment.

Causes of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea in adults is obesity, which can add extra fat around the neck and airways. During sleep, the throat and tongue muscles relax, leading to airway blockage. However, obesity isn't the only cause-other factors can contribute to sleep apnea.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to signal the body to breathe. It is often associated with conditions such as heart failure or stroke.

Sleep Apnea Prevention

If a family member has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, you may be concerned about your own risk, especially if you snore. Your risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea is about 50% higher if a parent, child, or sibling has the condition. However, you can lower your risk with lifestyle changes.

  • Losing weight, being physically active, quitting smoking, and reducing evening alcohol intake can all help.

  • If you have insomnia and take sleeping pills, note that they may contribute to sleep apnea; discuss alternatives with your doctor.

  • If you snore while sleeping on your back, try to sleep on your side instead.

Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea symptoms often go unnoticed since they occur while you’re asleep. If you sleep with a partner, they may notice that you snore, stop breathing, or make gasping sounds during the night.

Daytime symptoms include:

  • Fatigue, persistent tiredness, or sleepiness

  • Feeling depressed or in a low mood

  • Difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness

  • Weight gain

  • Morning headaches

  • High blood pressure

  • Sexual dysfunction

Sleep Apnea Treatment

One highly effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which delivers air pressure to your upper airway while you sleep using a mask and air pump.

If CPAP isn't suitable, alternatives like changing sleep positions or special appliances may be recommended. Your healthcare provider can guide you on the best option for you.

In cases where sleep apnea persists or significantly impacts daily life, surgery may be considered to address underlying causes like enlarged tonsils or a deviated septum.

Online Sleep Assessment

Wondering if you're at risk for sleep apnea? Untreated, it can have serious consequences. Take our simple online sleep assessment to find out if you're at risk and take steps towards better sleep.

  • Men have a higher likelihood of obstructive sleep apnea than women. In a 2018 Australian study, 25% of men and 13.3% of women were found to have diagnosed or possibly undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea.

  • Women with obstructive sleep apnea may face challenges in diagnosis compared to men. They may exhibit less prominent snoring and experience symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, headaches, or mood changes. Due to these differences, their doctors may address these symptoms rather than suggesting a home sleep test for sleep apnea.

  • Age is a significant factor in sleep apnea diagnosis. Men typically receive diagnoses of obstructive sleep apnea after the age of 40, while women are more likely to be diagnosed post-menopause or during pregnancy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Sleep Apnea Serious?

Yes, sleep apnea is a dangerous condition. If left untreated, it can lead to various health issues, including high blood pressure and diabetes.

Untreated sleep apnea can also cause daytime sleepiness, increasing the risk of roadside and workplace accidents.

Many people have sleep apnea and don’t even know it. If you think you may have symptoms of this disorder, consider seeking advice from your doctor or getting a sleep study done.

Is Sleep Apnea Genetic?

Research indicates that obstructive sleep apnea can be hereditary, allowing the condition to be passed from one generation to the next.

Although research suggests a genetic component to obstructive sleep apnea, the specific genes involved remain unclear.

Can Sleep Apnea Be Treated?

There is currently no cure for sleep apnea, but several treatment options are available. The choice of treatment depends on the type and severity of sleep apnea.

Treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea include:

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure): A machine that delivers a constant air pressure through a mask to keep airways open during sleep.

Lifestyle Changes: Such as weight loss and reducing alcohol consumption, which can help reduce symptoms of sleep apnea.

Sleeping on Your Side: Positional therapy to prevent airway obstruction caused by sleeping on the back.

Oral Appliances: Custom-made mouthpieces to reposition the jaw and tongue to maintain an open airway.

Surgery: For severe cases where other treatments have not been effective, surgeries may involve removing tissue or correcting structural issues in the throat or nasal passages.

Can a Deviated Septum Lead to Sleep Apnea?

No, a deviated septum itself does not cause sleep apnea, but it can exacerbate existing symptoms and increase the severity of sleep apnea. If you have a deviated septum, you may experience worsened symptoms and an increase in apnea events during sleep.

Although a deviated septum is not a direct cause of sleep apnea, its presence can sometimes help in identifying the condition.

If you believe your deviated septum is affecting your sleep, it's advisable to consult an ENT specialist to explore available treatment options.

Can Obesity Cause Sleep Apnea?

Yes, obesity and excess weight are the most common causes of obstructive sleep apnea.

Does Asthma Contribute to Sleep Apnea?

Asthma and sleep apnea often coexist, and it's crucial for individuals with asthma to recognize the symptoms of sleep apnea and seek appropriate treatment.