Sleep Apnea Learning Center

  • Enlarge
  • Print
  • Recommend

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.
Condition & Treatment Search
Symptom Search
Drug Search




Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Member Benefits Outback

Members save 15% on lunch and dinner every day at Outback Steakhouse.

Member Benefits AT&T Wireless Cell Phone

Members save 10% on monthly usage charges for qualified AT&T wireless plans.

Member Benefit Swipe Save Discount

Members can find current offers on select items from Family Dollar at

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points


African American, Asian Community Page

AARP In Your Corner

Visit Black Community, Español  and Asian Community pages.

AARP Drivers Safety logo

Driver Safety Program

Register at a location near you to keep your driving skills sharp. 

Create the Good

Create The Good 

Find opportunities to volunteer in your neighborhood. 

AARP Drive to End Hunger Logo

Drive to End Hunger

NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon teams up with AARP Foundation.