What is Sleep Apnea?

Term Definition
Apnea Pauses in breathing
Sleep Apnea Pauses in breathing occur during sleep
OBSTRUCTIVE Barrier blocking air getting into your lungs during sleep

“Apnea” means pauses in breathing. “Sleep apnea” means the breathing pauses occur during sleep (and not while awake). There are different types of sleep apnea. The most well known sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, or “OSA.”


Why Does Obstructive Sleep Apnea Occur?

The “obstruction” starts in the back of the throat. While awake, muscle tone keeps this area open. During sleep, muscles relax, including the muscles that control the throat. If this area is narrow, the relaxed muscles during sleep causes obstruction in this area. This collapse can be exacerbated by many factors including weight, age, medical problems, certain medications, and substances (e.g. alcohol).

What are the Symptoms of OSA?

Sleep apnea affects people differently, While the most common symptom of sleep apnea is snoring or daytime fatigue, not everyone who has sleep apnea will snore or feel tired. Common reported symptoms might include:

  • Snoring or snort arousals
  • Apneas, or witnessed pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Dry mouth
  • Fragmented sleep
  • Frequent bathroom trips during sleep hours
  • Feeling unrefreshed after awakening
  • Fatigue
  • Sleepiness
  • Moodiness or concentration issues
  • Fluctuations of blood pressure or sugar levels

Am I at Risk for Sleep Apnea?

There are many risk factors for sleep apnea. While some examples are provided here (see below), please keep in mind that these are NOT the ONLY risk factors:

  • Male gender
  • Post-menopausal women
  • Age over 40 years
  • Overweight / high body mass index (BMI) – assess your BMI here
  • Thick neck
  • Family history of snoring
  • History of high blood pressure or heart issues

Do I have Sleep Apnea?

If you suspect you have sleep apnea, you should take action!  The most important first step is to see a Sleep Physician for a proper diagnosis. Diagnosis typically consists of discussing your symptoms, a physical exam, and a sleep study that can be completed either with a kit that can be used in your own home or a more formal sleep study in a laboratory setting. Your sleep doctor will advise you on one or the other, depending on your symptoms.

To find out if you might have Sleep Apnea or another type of sleep disorder, take our quick Sleep Disorder Questionnaire.


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