How Do You Get Sleep Apnea?

Understanding Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder. It happens when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. This can result in the brain, as well as the rest of the body, not getting enough oxygen, causing significant health risks. But how do you get sleep apnea?

In simple terms, sleep apnea is often caused by the muscles in the back of the throat relaxing too much. This muscle relaxation can narrow or close your airway as you breathe in, causing decreased oxygen levels in your blood. Your brain senses this and briefly rouses you from sleep to reopen the airway. This pattern can repeat throughout the night, leading to less restorative sleep and potentially a loud snoring or choking sound, which are common symptoms of the disorder.

Going Beyond the Basics

Types of Sleep Apnea

Understanding the different types of sleep apnea can provide greater context for the various ways one can develop the condition. There are three main forms of sleep apnea:

1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This is the most common form, caused by a blockage of the airway when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.

2. Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): Unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe, due to instability in the respiratory control center.

3. Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome (CompSAS): Also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, this occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Causes of Sleep Apnea

Several factors can contribute to the relaxing and narrowing of the throat muscles that cause Obstructive Sleep Apnea. These include:

1. Excess Weight: Obesity significantly increases the risk of sleep apnea. Fat deposits around the upper airway can obstruct the breathing.

2. Neck Circumference: Those with thicker necks might have narrower airways, leading to an increased risk.

3. Gender and Age: Men, particularly those over the age of 60, are more likely to develop sleep apnea.

4. Family History: Having family members with sleep apnea might increase your risk.

Central Sleep Apnea is often associated with certain medical conditions, including heart disorders, stroke, and using certain medications, like opioids.

Risks of Untreated Sleep Apnea

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to severe health complications, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. It could also increase the chances of developing complications if you have to undergo surgery. Additionally, regular sleep interruption often leads to daytime fatigue, which can result in poor job performance or car accidents.

Treatment Options

Treatments for sleep apnea vary, depending on its causes and severity, and may include lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, breathing devices, and surgery. The first step in treatment is often lifestyle changes like losing weight, quitting smoking, or managing allergies better.

If these changes aren’t effective, oral appliances designed to keep the throat open, such as mandibular advancement devices, may be recommended. Some people may benefit from using a device that uses positive pressure to keep the airway open, such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device.

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In some cases, surgery may be an option. Procedures range from nasal surgery to remove polyps or straighten a crooked partition between your nostrils (deviated nasal septum) to major surgery, to remove excess tissue from the throat or rearrange the anatomical structure of the mouth and throat.

Finishing Thoughts

Sleep apnea is a serious and complex sleep disorder that requires a thorough understanding and awareness due to the potential health risks attached if left untreated. It’s always suggested to consult a healthcare professional if you suspect you have sleep apnea. Your doctor can provide additional insights about tests, potential causes, and treatment options. Remember, healthy sleep plays a significant role in your overall health and well-being.


  • Aiden Lawrence

    I'm Aiden Lawrence, a certified Sleep Science Coach and senior editor of GoodSleepHub, proud parent of two amazing kids, and a pet lover with a cat and a dog. Join me as we explore the world of sweet dreams and comfy pillows. Let's make bedtime the highlight of your day!

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