Sleep apnea: symptoms and causes (2023)

General description

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night's sleep, you may have sleep apnea.

The main types of sleep apnea are:

  • obstructive sleep apnea (OSA),which is the most common form that occurs when the throat muscles relax and block the flow of air to the lungs
  • Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), which occurs when the brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing
  • Treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, also known as complex sleep apnea, which occurs when someone hasTO THE— diagnosed with a sleep study — which becomesCSAwhen receiving therapy forTO THE

If you think you may have sleep apnea, see your doctor. Treatment can relieve symptoms and help prevent heart problems and other complications.


The symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apnea overlap, sometimes making it difficult to tell which type you have. The most common symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apnea include:

  • I snore loud.
  • Episodes where you stop breathing in your sleep, which would be reported by someone else.
  • Shortness of breath while sleeping.
  • Waking up with a dry mouth.
  • Morning headache.
  • Difficulty staying asleep, known as insomnia.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness, known as hypersomnia.
  • Difficulty paying attention while awake.
  • Irritability.

When to see a doctor

Loud snoring can indicate a potentially serious problem, but not everyone with sleep apnea snore. Talk to your doctor if you have symptoms of sleep apnea. Ask your doctor about any sleep problems that make you tired, sleepy, and irritable.

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obstructive sleep apnea

obstructive sleep apnea

Sleep apnea: symptoms and causes (1)

obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles that support the soft tissues in the throat, such as the tongue and soft palate, temporarily relax. When these muscles relax, the airways narrow or close and breathing momentarily stops.

This type of sleep apnea occurs when the muscles at the back of the throat relax. These muscles support the soft palate, the triangular piece of tissue that hangs from the soft palate called the uvula, the tonsils, the side walls of the throat, and the tongue.

When the muscles relax, the airways narrow or close when you breathe in. You don't get enough air, which can lower the oxygen level in your blood. Your brain detects that you can't breathe and wakes you up briefly so you can reopen your airways. This awakening is often so brief that you don't remember it.

You can huff, choke or gasp. This pattern can repeat 5 to 30 times or more every hour during the night. This makes it difficult to reach the deep, restorative phases of sleep.

central sleep apnea

This less common form of sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send signals to the breathing muscles. This means that you don't make any effort to breathe for a short period of time. You may wake up short of breath or have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

Risk factors

Sleep apnea can affect anyone, even children. But certain factors increase your risk.

obstructive sleep apnea

Factors that increase the risk of this form of sleep apnea include:

  • Overweight.Obesity greatly increases the risk ofTO THE. Fat deposits around the upper airways can obstruct breathing.
  • Neck circumference.People with thicker necks may have narrower airways.
  • A narrowed airway.You may have inherited a narrow throat. Tonsils or adenoids can also become enlarged and block the airway, especially in children.
  • Be a man.Men are 2 to 3 times more likely to have sleep apnea than women. However, women increase the risk if they are overweight or if they have gone through menopause.
  • be olderSleep apnea occurs significantly more often in older adults.
  • Family history.Having family members with sleep apnea can increase your risk.
  • Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers.These substances relax the throat muscles, which can make obstructive sleep apnea worse.
  • From smoking.Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than people who have never smoked. Smoking can increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airways.
  • Nasal congestion.If you have trouble breathing through your nose, either because of an anatomical problem or allergies, you are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Medical conditions.Congestive heart failure, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are some of the conditions that can increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea. Polycystic ovary syndrome, hormonal disorders, a previous stroke, and chronic lung conditions such as asthma can also increase the risk.

central sleep apnea

Risk factors for this form of sleep apnea include:

  • be olderMiddle-aged and older people are at greater risk for central sleep apnea.
  • Be a man.Central sleep apnea is more common in men than in women.
  • Heart disorders.Having congestive heart failure increases your risk.
  • Using narcotic pain relievers.Opioid medications, especially long-acting ones like methadone, increase the risk of central sleep apnea.
  • Attack.Having had a stroke increases the risk of central sleep apnoea.


Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition. complications ofTO THEmay include:

  • daytime fatigueRepeated awakenings associated with sleep apnea make typical restful sleep impossible, which in turn makes severe daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and irritability likely.

    You may have trouble concentrating and falling asleep at work, while watching TV, or even while driving. People with sleep apnea are at greater risk for car and work accidents.

    You may also feel moody, moody, or depressed. Children and teens with sleep apnea may do poorly in school or have behavioral problems.

  • High blood pressure or heart problems.Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur duringTO THEincrease blood pressure and overload the cardiovascular system. HavingTO THEincreases the risk of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

    TO THEit can also increase your risk of recurrent heart attack, stroke, and irregular heartbeats such as atrial fibrillation. If you have heart disease, multiple episodes of low blood oxygen (hypoxia or hypoxemia) can lead to sudden death from an irregular heartbeat.

  • Type 2 diabetes.Having sleep apnea increases your risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Metabolic syndrome.This disorder, which includes high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood sugar levels and increased waist circumference, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Complications with medications and surgery.Obstructive sleep apnea is also a problem with certain medications and general anesthesia. People with sleep apnea may be more likely to have complications after major surgery because they are prone to breathing problems, especially when sedated and lying on their back.

    Before having surgery, tell your doctor about your sleep apnea and how it is being treated.

  • liver problemsPeople with sleep apnea are more likely to have erratic liver function test results, and their livers are more likely to show signs of scarring, known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • Sleep deprived couples.Loud snoring can prevent someone sleeping nearby from getting a good rest. It is common for a couple to have to go to another room, or even to another floor of the house, to sleep.

complications ofCSAmay include:

  • Fatigue.The repeated awakening associated with sleep apnea makes typical restful sleep impossible. People with central sleep apnea often experience severe fatigue, daytime sleepiness, and irritability.

    You may have trouble concentrating and may fall asleep at work, while watching TV, or even while driving.

  • Cardiovascular problems.Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during central sleep apnea can negatively affect heart health.

    If there is underlying heart disease, these multiple repeated episodes of low blood oxygen, known as hypoxia or hypoxemia, worsen the prognosis and increase the risk of irregular heart rhythms.

By the staff at the Mayo Clinic


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