Sleep Apnea Learning Center

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Sleep Apnea

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder where breathing sporadically and repeatedly stops and starts while a person sleeps. Because the body may uncontrollably stop breathing, it can be a serious condition. There are three types of sleep apnea:

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea occurs when, during sleep, the brain doesn't send the right messages to the muscles that control breathing.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when throat muscles relax during sleep and prevent air from passing through. This is the most common type of sleep apnea and is most often due to obesity.

Complex Sleep Apnea

This is a combination of the other two types.


A person with sleep apnea might not always be aware of certain symptoms:

  • loud snoring
  • choking
  • abrupt waking
  • shortness of breath

These symptoms may first be recognized by a sleep partner. Symptoms more likely to be known to the patient include:

  • feeling tired after a full night of sleep
  • awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • difficulty staying asleep
  • having a headache in the morning

The Mayo Clinic recommends seeing your doctor if one or more of following is true:

  • you snore loud enough to wake others
  • shortness of breath awakens you
  • your breathing stops during sleep
  • you suffer from daytime drowsiness so severe that you fall asleep during work, watching television, or even while driving

Risk Factors & Treatments

Anyone can have sleep apnea, but certain factors put some at greater risk than others:

  • being male
  • being over the age of 65
  • smoking
  • excessive weight
  • a neck circumference larger than 17 inches
  • a narrowed airway
  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • high blood pressure
  • long periods of sitting

Sleep apnea treatment depends on the severity of the condition. It can include machines that keep airway pressure going while you sleep (continuous positive airway pressure), mouth pieces, surgery, various therapies, weight loss, abstaining from alcohol, and sleeping on your side.

Content licensed from:

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Published on Aug 25, 2010
Medically reviewed by Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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