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Sleep Apnea

What is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. The “apnea” in sleep apnea refers to a breathing pause that lasts at least ten seconds. OSA occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, despite efforts to breathe.

Sleep apnea is witnessed when you hear a person who snores throughout the night, stop snoring, appear to hold their breath, gasp and then take a deep breath.  However, instead of holding their breath their airway is actually complately closed.  Their body recognizes the extreme distress and briefly awakens the person just for the cycle to begin again.  Without the person’s knowledge, this can happen hundreds of times each night, keeping the person from getting the deep sleep needed for good health and to feel refreshed the next day.

What are the signs and symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

The strongest indicators of sleep apnea are as follows and should be evaluated by a health professional.

  • Chronic snoring
  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
  • Wake up gasping or choking
  • Stop breathing while sleeping


Those with sleep apnea generally complain of feeling tired all the time regardless of how much sleep they get.  They often speak of how well or how long they sleep not realizing the poor quality of their sleep.  Some may even feel good in the morning but by mid morning or afternoon are already in need of a nap.  Because many live with tiredness for years they tend to believe this state is normal or attributable to other issues such as age.  It’s important to understand that quality sleep of adequate length will result in energy filled days.

Since people with sleep apnea tend to be sleep deprived, they may also suffer from sleeplessness and a wide range of other symptoms such as:
  • difficulty concentrating
  • depression
  • irritability
  • sexual dysfunction
  • learning and memory difficulties
  • falling asleep while at work, on the phone, or driving.


Left untreated, symptoms of sleep apnea can lead to many other problems. Your body needs rest and with sleep apnea you are not getting the proper amount of rest.  It’s also being deprived of desperately needed oxygen throughout the night.  It is no surprise that serious health problems such as the following may arise…and the list is growing.

  • high blood pressure or hypertension
  • heart attack
  • congestive heart failure
  • cardiac arrhythmia
  • stroke
  • diabetes
  • obesity

What is the cause of Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is caused when your throat closes during sleep and causes you to stop breathing. Many things such as a narrow throat, large tonsils or excess tissues in your throat may cause OSA. Talk to your doctor if you think you may suffer from OSA.

Normal Breathing                                      Closed Passageway

Who does Sleep Apnea affect?

More than 18 million American adults have sleep apnea. OSA occurs in all age groups and both sexes, but there are a number of factors that increase risk, including having a small upper airway (or large tongue, tonsils or uvula), being overweight, having a recessed chin, small jaw or a large overbite, a large neck size (17 inches or greater in a man, or 16 inches or greater in a woman), smoking and alcohol use, and being age 40 or older. Also, OSA seems to run in some families, suggesting a possible genetic basis.

How is Sleep Apnea diagnosed?

If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, the first step is see your doctor. Bring with you a record of your sleep, fatigue levels throughout the day, list of medications and any other symptoms you might be having. Ask your bed partner if he or she notices that you snore heavily, choke, gasp, or stop breathing during sleep. You may want to call your medical insurance provider to find out if a referral is needed for a visit to a sleep center.

One of the most common methods used to diagnose sleep apnea is a sleep study, which may require an overnight stay at a sleep center. The sleep study monitors a variety of bodily functions during sleep including sleep state, eye movements, muscle activity, heart rate, respiratory effort, airflow, and blood oxygen levels. This test is used both to diagnose sleep apnea and to determine its severity. Sometimes, treatment can be started during the first night in the sleep center.

Positional Sleep Apnea

Positional sleep apnea is a type of sleep apnea that is dependent on the position that a person sleeps. People with positional sleep apnea experience a…

  • 50% reduction in their Apnea-Hypopnea Index when they change from sleeping on their back (supine) to a nonsupine position.
  • normalizing of their sleep apnea when sleeping in a nonsupine position.

As a result, positional sleep apnea treatments may be used in place of or in addition to traditional CPAP therapy.

What are the treatments Sleep Apnea?

There are several treatments for OSA but the treatment of choice for obstructive sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP). Click here to learn more about CPAP and other treatment options.