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 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.
There are two main types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax which means you can't get enough air through your mouth and nose into your lungs. When that happens, the amount of oxygen in your blood may drop. Central sleep apnea occurs when your brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Some people have complex sleep apnea which is a combination of both.
It's estimated that more than 12 million American adults have obstructive sleep apnea and more than half of the people who have this condition are overweight. Sleep apnea is more common in men. One out of 25 middle-aged men and 1 out of 50 middle-aged women have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea becomes more common as you get older. At least 1 out of 10 people over the age of 65 has sleep apnea. Women are much more likely to develop sleep apnea after menopause. African Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders are more likely to develop sleep apnea than Caucasians.
If someone in your family has sleep apnea, you're more likely to develop it. People who have small airways in their noses, throats, or mouths also are more likely to have sleep apnea. Smaller airways may be due to the shape of these structures or allergies or other medical conditions that cause congestion in these areas. Small children often have enlarged tonsil tissues in the throat. This can make them prone to developing sleep apnea.
To learn more about sleep apnea, survivors recommend these resources:
For more resources, check out NIH.gov