Getting to Know Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder characterized by repeated interruptions of breathing during sleep. This can result in the brain, heart and the rest of the body not getting enough oxygen. You might have sleep apnea if you snore loudly and experience fatigue even after a full night of sleep.

The two types of sleep apnea are: 


Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

This is caused by an obstruction in the upper airway. When throat muscles temporarily relax during sleep, the airway gets narrow or closes and breathing is interrupted.


Central Sleep Apnea

The airway is not obstructed. However, the brain fails to signal the lung muscles to breathe. This is different from obstructive sleep apnea where there is heightened inspiratory effort during apneic periods.


Signs and Symptoms Associated with Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The most common signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Observed episodes of breathing cessation during sleep
  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath
  • Choking or gasping for air during sleep
  • Restless sleep or difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Awakening with dry mouth or sore throat
  • Morning headaches
  • Nausea
  • Excessive day time sleepiness (even while at work or while driving)
  • Loss of memory
  • Difficulty concentrating at work
  • Mood swings or personality changes, such as irritability or depression
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Frequent urination during the night
  • Obesity due to lack of energy


Untreated OSA Has Been Linked To (use from our pamphlet and cross reference other sites)

  • Heart failure and heart arrhythmias
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Increased work related injuries and risk of motor vehicle accidents


Are you at risk?

  • Excessive Weight: more than 50% of the patients diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight. It is suggested that fat deposits around the upper airway may obstruct breathing.
  • Neck Size: obstructive sleep apnea is often seen in the patients with large neck sizes. A neck circumference greater than 17 inches increases the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Hypertension: obstructive sleep apnea is commonly seen in patients with high blood pressure.
  • Anatomic Narrowing of Upper Airway: common causes of anatomic narrowing of the upper airway include excessive pharyngeal tissue, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, deviated nasal septum, laryngeal stenosis and vocal cord dysfunction.
  • Chronic Nasal Congestion: obstructive sleep apnea occurs twice as often in patients with chronic nasal congestions from any cause.
  • Diabetes: patients with diabetes are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than healthy individuals.
  • Male Sex: men are twice as likely to have obstructive sleep apnea as women.
  • Age > 65 Years: obstructive sleep apnea is two to three times greater in people older than 65 years
  • Menopause: the risk of obstructive sleep apnea is greater after menopause
  • Family History of Sleep Apnea: individuals who have one or more family members who have obstructive sleep apnea are also at greater risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea
  • Alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers: depressive agents relax the muscles of the upper airway.
  • Smoking: smokers are almost three times more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.


Jardins, T. D. (2010). Chapter 30 Sleep Apnea. In Clinical manifestations and assessment of respiratory disease: Pageburst retail. Place of publication not identified: Elsevier Mosby.