What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep.

Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. They often occur 5 to 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.

Sleep apnea usually is a chronic (ongoing) condition that disrupts your sleep 3 or more nights each week. You often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep when your breathing pauses or becomes shallow.

This results in poor sleep quality that makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is one of the leading causes of excessive daytime sleepiness.

Major Signs and Symptoms

One of the most common signs of obstructive sleep apnea is loud and chronic (ongoing) snoring. Pauses may occur in the snoring. Choking or gasping may follow the pauses.

The snoring usually is loudest when you sleep on your back; it may be less noisy when you turn on your side. Snoring may not happen every night. Over time, the snoring may happen more often and get louder.

You're asleep when the snoring or gasping occurs. You will likely not know that you're having problems breathing or be able to judge how severe the problem is. Your family members or bed partner will often notice these problems before you do.

Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.

Another common sign of sleep apnea is fighting sleepiness during the day, at work, or while driving. You may find yourself rapidly falling asleep during the quiet moments of the day when you're not active.

Other Signs and Symptoms

Others signs and symptoms of sleep apnea may include:

Overview

Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. Doctors usually can't detect the condition during routine office visits. Also, there are no blood tests for the condition.

Most people who have sleep apnea don't know they have it because it only occurs during sleep. A family member and/or bed partner may first notice the signs of sleep apnea. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea.

This most often means that the airway has collapsed or is blocked during sleep. The blockage may cause shallow breathing or breathing pauses.

When you try to breathe, any air that squeezes past the blockage can cause loud snoring. Obstructive sleep apnea happens more often in people who are overweight, but it can affect anyone.

Central sleep apnea is a less common type of sleep apnea. It happens when the area of your brain that controls your breathing doesn't send the correct signals to your breathing muscles. You make no effort to breathe for brief periods.

Central sleep apnea often occurs with obstructive sleep apnea, but it can occur alone. Snoring doesn't typically happen with central sleep apnea.     more...

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