Sleep apnea (AP-ne-ah) is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep.
Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. They may occur 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.
Sleep apnea usually is a chronic (ongoing) condition that disrupts your sleep. When your breathing pauses or becomes shallow, you’ll often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep.
As a result, the quality of your sleep is poor, which makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness.
Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. Doctors usually can't detect the condition during routine office visits. Also, no blood test can help diagnose the condition.
Most people who have sleep apnea don't know they have it because it only occurs during sleep. A family member or bed partner might be the first to notice signs of sleep apnea.
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. In this condition, the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep. This causes shallow breathing or breathing pauses.
When you try to breathe, any air that squeezes past the blockage can cause loud snoring. Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in people who are overweight, but it can affect anyone. For example, small children who have enlarged tonsil tissues in their throats may have obstructive sleep apnea.
The animation below shows how obstructive sleep apnea occurs. Click the "start" button to play the animation. Written and spoken explanations are provided with each frame. Use the buttons in the lower right corner to pause, restart, or replay the animation, or use the scroll bar below the buttons to move through the frames.
Central sleep apnea is a less common type of sleep apnea. This disorder occurs if the area of your brain that controls your breathing doesn't send the correct signals to your breathing muscles. As a result, you'll make no effort to breathe for brief periods.
Central sleep apnea can affect anyone. However, it's more common in people who have certain medical conditions or use certain medicines.
Central sleep apnea can occur with obstructive sleep apnea or alone. Snoring typically doesn't happen with central sleep apnea.
This article mainly focuses on obstructive sleep apnea.
Untreated sleep apnea can:
Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that requires long-term management. Lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, surgery, and breathing devices can successfully treat sleep apnea in many people.
Sleep Disorders & Insufficient Sleep: Improving Health through Research
National Institutes of Health- (NIH) supported research is shedding light on how sleep and lack of sleep affect the human body. The NIH and its partners will continue to work together to advance sleep research. Read the full fact sheet...
Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Sleep Apnea, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.
May 21, 2013
Tonsil surgery improves some behaviors in children with sleep apnea syndrome
Children with sleep apnea syndrome who have their tonsils and adenoids removed sleep better, are less restless and impulsive, and report a generally better quality of life, finds a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health. However, the study found cognitive abilities did not improve compared with children who did not have surgery, and researchers say the findings don’t mean surgery is an automatic first choice.
November 20, 2013
Gary H. Gibbons
New NHLBI Program Trains Scientists to Bring More Science Out of the Lab and into the Patient Care Marketplace
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