sleep apnea is the most common sleep-related breathing disorder. It causes you to repeatedly stop and start breathing while you sleep. There are several types of sleep apnea, but the most common is obstructive sleep apneaa. This type of apnea occurs when your throat muscles intermittently relax and block your airway during sleep. A noticeable sign of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring. Sleep apneaa is a sleeping disorder that can lead to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure and heart trouble, if untreated. Untreated sleep apnea causes breathing to stop repeatedly during sleep, causing loud snoring and daytime tiredness, even with a full night’s sleep. Sleep apneaa can affect anyone, but most often older men who are overweight.
It is a serious sleep disorder that happens when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night. If it’s not treated, sleep apnea can cause a number of health problems, including hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the muscle tissue of the heart), heart failure, diabetes and heart attacks. Untreated sleep apnea can also be responsible for job impairment, work-related accidents and motor vehicle crashes, as well as underachievement in school in children and adolescents.
Obstructive sleep apneaa is the most common type of sleep apnea (and is the primary focus of this article). It occurs when the muscles that support the soft tissues in the upper airway relax during sleep and block the normal flow of air in and out of the nose and mouth. This usually causes loud snoring and interrupted breathing.
Central sleep apneaa is a much less common type of sleep apnea that involves the central nervous system. It occurs when the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that control breathing. It is often caused by an underlying health condition. People with central sleep apneaa seldom snore.
Complex or mixed sleep apnea is a rare combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apneaa.
The signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas overlap, sometimes making it difficult to determine which type you have. The most common signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas include:
Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — which would be reported by another person
Gasping for air during sleep
Awakening with a dry mouth
Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
Difficulty paying attention while awake
Obstructive sleep apnea
This occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax. These muscles support the soft palate, the triangular piece of tissue hanging from the soft palate (uvula), the tonsils, the side walls of the throat and the tongue.
When the muscles relax, your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in. You can’t get enough air, which can lower the oxygen level in your blood. Your brain senses your inability to breathe and briefly rouses you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway. This awakening is usually so brief that you don’t remember it.
You might snort, choke or gasp. This pattern can repeat itself five to 30 times or more each hour, all night, impairing your ability to reach the deep, restful phases of sleep.
Central sleep apneaa
This less common form of sleep apneaa occurs when your brain fails to transmit signals to your breathing muscles. This means that you make no effort to breathe for a short period. You might awaken with shortness of breath or have a difficult time getting to sleep or staying asleep.