Home » Sleep Disorders » Sleep Apnea
August 2020 |  Reviewed by:  Seema Khosla, MD and Imran Shaikh, MD

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

There are different types of sleep apnea, including central sleep apnea, and obstructive sleep apnea is the most common. It is a common and serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during sleep. If you have sleep apnea, your airway becomes blocked repeatedly during sleep. The amount of air reaching your lungs is limited. When this happens, you may snore loudly or make choking noises. Your brain and body become oxygen deprived and you may wake up. This may happen a few times a night, or in more severe cases, several hundred times a night.

In many cases, an apnea, or a short pause in breathing, is caused by the tissue in the back of the throat collapsing. The muscles of the upper airway relax when you fall asleep. If you sleep on your back, gravity can cause the tongue to fall back. This narrows the airway, which reduces the amount of air that can reach your lungs. The narrowed airway causes snoring by making the tissue in the back of the throat vibrate as you breathe.

If you feel tired or unrefreshed after waking up even though you have had a full night of sleep, it may be due to sleep apnea. During the day, you may feel fatigued, have difficulty concentrating or may even unintentionally fall asleep. This is because your body is waking up numerous times during the night, even though you might not be conscious of each awakening.

The lack of oxygen your body receives can have a negative impact on your health. This includes:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Pre-diabetes and diabetes
  • Depression

There are many people with sleep apnea who have not been diagnosed or received treatment. Your medical provider can diagnose sleep apnea using a sleep study in a sleep lab or at home. There are several treatments to help you manage sleep apnea.

What are symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea?

The most common symptom of sleep apnea is snoring. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Snoring is likely to be a sign of sleep apnea when it is followed by silent breathing pauses and choking or gasping sounds. People with sleep apnea often have daytime sleepiness or fatigue.

Common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud or frequent snoring
  • Silent pauses in breathing
  • Choking or gasping sounds
  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • Unrefreshing or restless sleep
  • Insomnia
  • Morning headaches
  • Waking frequently during the night to go to the bathroom
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Difficulty maintaining an erection
  • Irritability