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Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that happens when your breathing stops and starts while you slumber. If it goes untreated, it can cause loud snoring, daytime tiredness, or more serious problems like heart trouble or high blood pressure.

This condition is different from regular, or primary, snoring. Primary snoring can be caused by nose or throat conditions, sleep style (especially back sleeping), being overweight or of an older age, or the use of alcohol or other depressants. While primary snoring and sleep apnea-related snoring both happen when the tissues in the back of your throat vibrate, people with sleep apnea tend to:

  • Snore much louder than those with regular snoring
  • Pause while they breathe (for over 10 seconds)
  • Take shallow breaths, gasp, or choke
  • Be restless

Sleep Apnea Q&A

Obstructive sleep apnea. This is the most common type. It happens when your airways repeatedly become completely or partially blocked during sleep, usually because the soft tissue in the back of your throat collapses. During these episodes, your diaphragm and chest muscles work harder than normal to open your airways. You may start to breathe with loud gasps or jerk your body. This can affect your sleep, lower the flow of oxygen to your vital organs, and lead to abnormal heart rhythms.

You usually won’t notice your first symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. Instead, your bed partner may make you aware of them. The most common signs and symptoms are:

  • Snoring
  • Fatigue or sleepiness during the day
  • Restlessness while sleeping, or regular nighttime awakenings
  • Dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up
  • Waking up suddenly after gasping or choking
  • Trouble concentrating, forgetfulness, or crankiness
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Constant need to go pee at night
  • Night sweats
  • Headaches

Your doctor will want to rule out any other possible reasons for your symptoms before they diagnose you with sleep apnea. To do this, they’ll:

  • Ask if you take any medications, such as opioids or other drugs that could affect your sleep
  • Look for other medical reasons or conditions that could cause symptoms
  • Ask if you’ve traveled recently to altitudes higher than 6,000 feet. These locations have low oxygen, which could cause symptoms of sleep apnea for a few weeks after traveling.