Sleep apnea: overview and more

Sleep apnea is a common condition that affects millions of Americans. Chronic respiratory distress, in which a person repeatedly stops breathing during the night, can be caused by a partial or total obstruction (or collapse) of the upper airways , usually affecting the base of the tongue and the soft palate .

It may also be due to a suppressed inspiratory signal from the brainstem. These events last 10 seconds or more and can occur hundreds of times per night. A person with sleep apnea may experience loud snoring, short pauses in breathing, and intermittent shortness of breath. During apnea, blood oxygen levels drop, heart rate increases, and sleep is interrupted when the person wakes up to resume breathing .

The effects of sleep apnea can have serious implications for sleep quality, daytime function, and overall health.

Illustration by Jessica Olah, Get Meds Info

Types of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a general term that includes any disorder that causes respiratory arrest during sleep. It can affect anyone at any age, but the prevalence of sleep apnea increases after middle age. There are three main types of angia during sleep, including the following :

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea
  2. Central sleep apnea
  3. Complex sleep apnea

Sleep apnea isn't the only problem that can cause shortness of breath during sleep. There are several other problems that do not cause complete respiratory arrest, but can be troublesome, such as snoring , catatraia (moaning during sleep), or upper respiratory resistance syndrome (UARS). It is also important to understand that oxygen levels can drop during sleep if lung function is impaired due to lung disease, and this will require special treatment.

Sleep apnea symptoms

Aside from the pauses in breathing that are typical for this disorder, there are many other common symptoms of sleep apnea. These symptoms can include:

  • Loud chronic snoring
  • Choking or suffocating during sleep.
  • Observed pauses in breathing during sleep.
  • Waking up frequently to urinate ( nocturia )
  • Grinding or grinding of teeth (bruxism)
  • Dry throat or mouth upon waking
  • Night heartbeat or heart palpitations.
  • Night sweats
  • Nocturnal heartburn
  • Frequent nocturnal awakenings and insomnia.
  • Increased daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headache
  • Short-term memory or learning problems
  • Feeling irritable
  • Little concentration or attention
  • Mood swings, including depression

Not all of these symptoms need to be present for the condition to occur, and children with sleep apnea can present with a variety of complaints, including growth problems, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and restless sleep .


There are several common causes of obstructive sleep apnea, and these situations can also exacerbate existing sleep apnea, including :

  • Being overweight or obese (including an oversized neck )
  • Abnormal upper airway anatomy (including deviated septum )
  • Use of drugs, drugs or alcohol.
  • Aging
  • Sleep on your back
  • REM sleep or sleeping in a dream
  • Of smoking

Also, central sleep apnea can occur due to stroke, heart failure, or the use of narcotic or opioid pain relievers. Complex sleep apnea occurs with certain treatments .

Sleep apnea is quite common. When sleep apnea is defined as having more than five apnea episodes per hour, approximately 22% of men and 17% of women suffer from sleep apnea .

If someone develops sleep apnea, it usually occurs at age 65. It is more common in men.


The diagnosis of sleep apnea often depends on a thorough medical history and physical examination by a qualified, board-certified sleep medicine physician. In general, a home sleep apnea test or a diagnostic polysomnogram done at a testing center are the only tests needed to diagnose sleep apnea. Additional tests are performed using a set of standard diagnostic tests that could include :

Watch out

There are several treatments for sleep apnea; Often times, you need to try different treatments (or combinations of them) to find one that works. Some common treatments include the following :

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) . Most people seeking treatment go through this process, which requires the selection of a CPAP mask. The mask provides a stream of compressed air that opens the airways during sleep. It is also important to keep the CPAP clean.
  • Bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) . Similar to CPAP, BiPAP is also sometimes used. The difference here is that two types of compressed air are delivered through the mask (one when inhaling and the other when exhaling).
  • Chin strap . These devices can help prevent mouth breathing . Chin straps are sometimes used in addition to CPAP.

For those who cannot tolerate CPAP, there are several alternative treatments . They can be oral aids , positional therapy, or surgery .

In some cases where excessive daytime sleepiness persists despite treatment, stimulants such as Ritalin , Provigil, and Nuvigil may be necessary to treat the sleepiness. Even unusual alternatives, like playing the didgeridoo , have proven effective treatments . Some people benefit from caffeine or even scheduled naps. As always, it is helpful for people with sleep disorders to follow the recommendations for improving sleep.


Lack of treatment for sleep apnea can have serious, even fatal consequences, including :

  • Stroke or transient ischemic attacks
  • Cardiac ischemia
  • Heart failure
  • Arrhythmia
  • Myocardial infarction
  • High blood pressure
  • Heartburn and reflux
  • Diabetes
  • erectile dysfunction
  • Concentration and memory problems (dementia)
  • Depression
  • Sudden death

There are isolated consequences of sleep apnea in children, which can include hyperactivity , growth retardation, and decreased intelligence.

Get the word of drug information

Sleep apnea refers to any of the common disorders that result from pauses in breathing during sleep. There are many factors that contribute to respiratory problems. However, it is very important to speak with your doctor about the potential risks associated with this pause in breathing. Sleep apnea can make you feel tired or depressed, but in the worst case, the risk of sleep apnea can be fatal. If you have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about possible treatments that are right for you.

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