Common Symptoms and Causes of Sleep Apnea

September 3, 2019 By ashwin

Common Symptoms and Causes of Sleep Apnea

In essence, sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where breathing stops and starts repeatedly. If you snore loudly and wake up tired even after a full night’s sleep, it is likely that you have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is classified into 3 main types:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea – this is one of the most common forms of sleep apnea. This occurs when the throat muscles relax.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome – this type is also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea. This is present in patients who have central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Central sleep apnea – this condition develops when the brain fails to send the proper signal the muscles that control breathing.

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If you think you have sleep apnea, seeing your doctor is recommended so you will be given the best sleep apnea treatment suited for your case. Getting the right sleep apnea treatment will not only help see your symptoms, it can also help guarantee other possible complications are avoided.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms and signs of central and obstructive sleep apneas sometimes overlap and might make it challenging to really determine that type you have. Some of the most telltale signs and symptoms include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Episodes where your breathing stops
  • Morning headaches
  • Insomnia (difficulty sleeping)
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Sometimes gasping for air during sleep
  • Difficulty paying attention when awake
  • Hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness during the day)
  • Irritability

Possible Causes

  • Obstructive sleep apnea

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This type occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relaxes. The muscles support the soft palate, the uvula, the tongue, tonsils, and the side walls of the throat. When the throat muscles relax, the airway narrows and closes as the patient breathes. 

When you can get enough air, your brain will sense the inability to breath and rouses the patient from sleep so the airway can be reopened. This awakening is often very brief that most patients won’t even remember.

Patients however might choke, gasp, or snort. The pattern can be repeated by as much as 30 times (or more) each hour, thereby impairing the patient’s ability to attain a deep and restful sleep.

  • Central sleep apnea

This is a less common type of sleep apnea and it occurs when the brain fails to transmit signals to the breathing muscles. That means the patient can make no effort to breath for a short period. Patients can also wake up experiencing shortness of breath and might have difficulty staying asleep or getting back to sleep.

Risk Factors

Certain factors can increase one’s risk of developing sleep apnea. Some of the factors include:

  • Excess weight – obesity has been known to increase one’s risk of developing the condition. Fat deposits in the upper airway can also end up obstructing the patient’s breathing.
  • Neck circumference – people who have thicker necks might have narrower airways.
  • Being older – sleep apnea has a higher chance of development in older adults.
  • Smoking – smokers are three times more likely to develop the condition compared to their non-smoking counterparts. Smoking has also been known to increase the amount of fluid retention an inflammation in the upper airway.


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