Sleep Apnea: All You Need To Know

What is Sleep Apnea?

drooling in sleep

Sleep apnea is a common disorder where one has trouble breathing while sleep such as shallow breaths or pauses in breathing. The breathing pauses can take some few second to minutes. They can happen in a span of 30 times or more in an hour. After the pauses, normal breathing starts again, sometimes with a chocking sound or loud snort.

Sleep apnea is an ongoing condition that disrupts sleep. When the breathing becomes shallow or pauses you will often move out from deep sleep and go into light sleep. This leads to poor quality of sleep which makes you feel tired in the course of the day. It is also a common cause of sleepiness during the day.

Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed since doctors usually will not detect the condition during routine visits by the patient. Also, there is no known blood test that can help diagnose the condition. Most people who have sleep apnea do not know they have it as it occurs only during sleep. The only way it can be noticed is by a sleep partner or family member.

Types of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The most common type is sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. This condition leads to collapsing or blocking of the airway during sleep. This causes breathing pauses or shallow breathing. When you try to breathe, any air that passes through the airway causes loud snoring. Obstructive sleep apnea is most common in people who are overweight, but it can also affect anyone. Like in the case of small children who have tonsil tissues that are enlarged in the throat area may have obstructive sleep apnea.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is a less common type. It occurs when the area of the brain that controls breathing does not send the correct signals to the breathing muscles. This results to no efforts of breathing for short periods. This type of sleep apnea can also affect anyone but it is more common in people who have certain medical conditions or use certain medicines.

Central sleep apnea can occur together with obstructive sleep apnea or on itself. Snoring does not typically happen with central sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea: Why Do You Have Trouble Breathing While Sleeping

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Major Signs and Symptoms

The most common sign of obstructive sleep apnea is loud and ongoing snoring. There may be occurrence of pauses in the snoring. Gasping for air and chocking may follow the pauses. The snoring is usually loudest when sleeping on your back and may be less noisy if you sleep on your side. The snoring may not happen every night but overtime it may happen more and even get louder. However, not everyone who snore has sleep apnea.

Another common sign is sleepiness during the day, while driving or at work. You may find yourself falling asleep during time of the day when you are not active or when it is silent and quiet.

Other Signs and Symptoms

  • Lack of concentration and learning or memory problems.
  • Having a dry mouth and sore throat when you wake up.
  • Morning headaches.
  • Waking up frequently to urinate.
  • Feeling depressed, irritable or having personality changes or mood swings.
Sleep Apnea: Why Do You Have Trouble Breathing While Sleeping

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

When you wake up, throat muscles help to keep the airway still and open so that air can flow into the lungs but when sleeping these muscles relax which leads to narrowing of the throat. In normal cases, this does not prevent air from flowing to the lungs. But if you are suffering from sleep apnea, your airway becomes fully or partially blocked due to:

  • The throat muscles and the tongue relax more than normal.
  • The tongue and tonsils are large as compared to the opening in the windpipe.
  • Being overweight meaning the extra soft fat tissue can lead to thickening of the walls of the windpipe. This narrows the inside of the windpipe which makes it hard to keep it open for air to pass through.
  • The shape of the head and neck (bone structure) can cause a smaller size of the airway in the mouth as well as around the throat area.
  • The aging process leading to limiting the brain signals’ ability to keep the throat muscle stiff when asleep. This leads to a likelihood of the airway collapsing or narrowing.

The above conditions lead to lack of enough air flowing into the lungs as the airway is fully or partially blocked during sleep. This results to snoring loudly and drop in the level of blood oxygen. If oxygen levels drop to a dangerous level, it triggers the brain to disturb sleep. This leads to tightening of muscles around the upper airway and open the windpipe. Normal breathing start again and in most cases with a chocking sound or loud snort.

Effects of Sleep Apnea

sleep disorder

Since sleep apnea causes poor quality of sleep it can lead to:

  • Sleepiness during the day.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Daytime performance is affected.

Sleep apnea can also cause annoying and life threatening effect such as:

  • Irritability
  • High blood pressure.
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Falling asleep while at work, while driving or on phone.
  • Learning and memory problems.
  • Depression.

People with severe sleep apnea can have more severe risks such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart attacks, and irregular heartbeats. Untreated sleep apnea can cause changes the use of energy in the body. These changes lead to the risk of obesity and diabetes.


Many people who suffer from sleep apnea have not been diagnosed or received treatment. Obstructive Sleep apnea can be diagnosed by using an in-lab sleep study or home sleep apnea test. It can also be managed using a continuous positive airway pressure therapy and lifestyle changes. But the front-line treatment of sleep apnea is surgery or oral appliance therapy. Have in mind that causes and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea differ from adults to children as well as central sleep apnea. It is therefore important to have the right information on which type you suffer from and how it can be treated or else live with it.

  • Jane
  • Updated October 30, 2016

I am Jane Collins, a Founder and a Main Editor of I decided to create this site to share my knowledge, guides and tips to help you to have a good night's sleep.

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