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Six facts about sleep apnea

Filed in
  • Snoring
  • Sleep apnea
  • Sleep Disorders

By Jack Cunningham  |  Aug 06, 2019
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Obstructive sleep apnea is a common and serious sleep disorder that repeatedly causes you to stop breathing during sleep. Warning signs include loud snoring and gasping or choking sounds as you sleep.

Estimates suggest that nearly 30 million adults in the U.S. have obstructive sleep apnea. Worldwide, sleep apnea may affect almost one billion people. Sleep apnea can affect anybody, even Emmy-nominated actress Amy Poehler.

Chances are, sleep apnea will impact your life in one way another. It may affect you, your bedpartner, or another family member. Here are six facts about sleep apnea to keep in mind.

1. There are two types of sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is most common. It occurs when your muscles relax during sleep, causing soft tissue to collapse and block the airway. You try to breathe but can’t. Central sleep apnea occurs due to instability in your body’s breathing control system. Your body stops trying to breathe during sleep.

2. Sleep apnea can occur at any age, even in infants.

Central sleep apnea can occur in infants. It may be a developmental problem or the result of another medical condition. More common is pediatric obstructive sleep apnea. In children, sleep apnea is often caused by large tonsils and adenoids that block the airway during sleep.

3. Sleep apnea increases with age.

Until the day that we master the technology to stop aging, getting older will continue to be a natural part of life. The risk of having sleep apnea increases with age, and women are more likely to have sleep apnea after menopause. The severity of sleep apnea also tends to progress slowly over time. Although the rate of sleep apnea appears to reach a plateau around the age of 65 years, you can still develop it later in life.

4. Sleep apnea is often undiagnosed.

It is estimated that about 23.5 million U.S. adults who have sleep apnea remain undiagnosed. Too many people fail to recognize that snoring is a warning sign for sleep apnea. One study also found that women tend to underreport snoring and underestimate its loudness. Women also may be more likely than men to report symptoms such as fatigue or insomnia.

5. Untreated, severe apnea can affect your health.

When ignored and untreated, sleep apnea can cause serious health problems. These problems include high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and depression.

6. Lifestyle changes can reduce sleep apnea severity.

The most important risk factor for sleep apnea is excess body weight. Getting closer to a healthy weight can help improve your breathing during sleep. You also should avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. For some people, sleep apnea mostly occurs while sleeping on their back. In that case, using positional therapy to promote side-sleeping can help.

Get help for sleep apnea from the sleep team at an AASM-accredited sleep center near you.

Reviewed by Dr. Lawrence Epstein


  1. 1 Charlotte Fleet 07 Apr
    I found it very interesting that when sleep apnea is left untreated it can cause major health issues. My dad has sleep apnea and hasn't had it treated. I will suggest that he find a reliable treatment clinic to visit so that he does not get any serious health problems by not treating his sleep apnea.
  2. 2 Pete B 13 Jan
    Can polyps cause sleep apnea? 
  3. 3 Taylor hansen 04 Jan
    It really helped when you said that the risk of sleep apnea increases with age. I just learned that I have sleep apnea and I need some help getting better sleep at night. I'll be sure to find a place that can help me with this condition.
  4. 4 Ronald Reaves 29 Sep
    In the service (u.s.Navy), my las 2 1/2 years. I worked 2 days, the 2 id night shift and the 2 day shifts. and was then off for 80 hrs.  I started snoring during this time and then had migraine headaches.  I think the lead to me having sleep apnea....Does that sould correct...
  5. 5 F D M 06 Jul
    I used to have sleep apnea. I hope that I grew out of it. My parents say that I snore VERY loudly, but I refuse to believe it. When I was about 7 years old I got my tonsils and Adenoids removed. After that, I was about to go back to get tested to see if I had SA, but the place burned down. We never had a chance to re-schedule. I went online to see the symptoms of Sleep Apnea, and I can't really tell because almost all of them are things that happen in your sleep, and I don't remember anything whenever I go to bed. 
  6. 6 Bertrand 25 Jun
    I will want to get rid off it right now 
  7. 7 MIKE MCHALE 14 Feb
    1.  I'm try to Determine if & when OSA was/is clinically regarded as Chronic Disease.
    2.  When was OSA recognized by the medical community as a Separate Medical disease entity with serious complications.
    3  When Sleep Studies first widely used to Diagnose the severity of OSA  
  8. 8 Henry Killingsworth 27 Jan
    Thank you for helping me to understand that one of the things that can happen if sleep apnea is left untreated is excessive weight gain. If I were to guess, it would be a good idea for someone who is struggling with this to get a mouthguard to use at night. If I remember correctly, a mouthguard helps people breathe more because it keeps their airways open.
  9. 9 Terry 07 Jan
    I have sleep apnea and am single and share a room not sure if I have one or the other , is it possible to have both ?  Probably , it doesn't help my roommate and their family members feed off each other's energy levels , such as breathing , sounds , hearing etc, all sensory.  It has made it a daunting situation to get a good night sleep. yes your article was informative but not very useful. I will try 1of 2 hospitals locally still I am skeptical.
  10. 10 Lyla Peterson 30 Sep
    It's good to know that snoring can be a warning sign of sleep apnea. My father tends to snore very loudly and he has mentioned that he has been sleeping poorly. I will advise him to talk to a doctor about sleep apnea. 
  11. 11 Lloyd Bronson 11 Sep
    The fact that sleep apnea can cause harsh health repercussions such as higher blood pressure and heart disease was something that I was not aware of. My wife finds herself dealing with this ailment frequently and I have noticed a slight decline in her overall health.
  12. 12 AASM 03 Sep
    Joan - You can find a directory of sleep apnea support groups on the website of the American Sleep Apnea Association: 
  13. 13 Joan Plucinski 30 Aug
    Is there a sleep apnea support group near me ? Zip Code 06614 Stratford, Ct