Sleep Apnea Information

Snoring and sleep apnea are common sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) problems that can affect your sleep, health and quality of life.

Approximately one in every five adults has SDB.

Up to 80% of these are unaware of their condition and remain undiagnosed and untreated.

Snoring and sleep apnea often occur together.

Your airway may:

  • Narrow, limiting airflow as you breathe
  • Vibrate, commonly heard as snoring
  • Collapse, so you stop breathing

This third type of change is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It is the most common type of Sleep Disordered Breathing.

Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) is a general term for a sleep disorder with apneas and hypopneas.

  • Apnea: a cessation of airflow for ten seconds or longer
  • Hypopnea: a 50% or greater decrease in air flow for ten seconds or longer.

Obstructions occur during sleep for two primary reasons: lack of muscle tone and gravity. Because we tend to sleep lying down, gravity pulls these tissues toward the back of the throat and closes the upper airway.

normal breathing during sleep

Partially Obstructed Upper Airway

Snoring – the symptom most commonly associated with OSA – happens when the upper airway becomes partially obstructed. As air moves through the limited space, it causes the soft tissues of the throat, uvula, and soft palate to vibrate. These vibrations create the sound we recognize as snoring.

obstructive sleep apnea airway diagram

Obstructed Upper Airway

When these tissues obstruct the upper airway completely, they prevent breathing. They actually work to suffocate the sleeper. The sleeper wakes up enough to regain control of the upper airway, breathe again, and then fall back to sleep. This happens from dozens to hundreds of times per night for people with OSA, but they usually don’t remember waking up.

SDB and Sleep Deprivation – The brief wake-ups that people with obstructive sleep apnea experience also diminish their quality of sleep, resulting in sleep deprivation. The symptoms of sleep deprivation may be what bring most people with obstructive sleep apnea to see their physician. Symptoms like excessive daytime sleepiness, poor concentration, poor memory, and even depression are common for people with obstructive sleep apnea.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Hypertension and decreased blood oxygen levels are common symptoms for people with sleep apnea, but these are not easily detected. Here are the symptoms that are easiest to identify without diagnostic testing:

  • Excessive sleepiness (use the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to evaluate your sleepiness)
  • Snoring (people with OSA usually snore but not always)
  • Witnessed apneas or irregular breathing during sleep (gasping, long pauses, etc – a spouse or partner may notice these)
  • Impaired concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Morning headaches
  • Sexual dysfunction

Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Physicians have identified a number of factors that may increase a person’s risk of having obstructive sleep apnea:

  • Obesity
  • Snoring
  • Family history of obstructive sleep apnea or snoring
  • Small upper airway (large tongue, large uvula, recessed chin, excess tissue in the throat and/or soft palate)

Heavier people have a greater risk of sleep apnea. In addition, the heavier a person becomes the more severe obstructive sleep apnea becomes, so most physicians recommend exercise and a healthy diet for people with obstructive sleep apnea.

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