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Sleep apnea – symptoms, causes, types and other risk factors

This is potentially a serious sleep disorder in which the breathing repeatedly stops and starts. You can also have a sleep apnea if you snore loudly and you feel tired even if you have a full night’s sleep.

Types of sleep apnea: Here are the main types

Complex sleep apnea syndrome: This type of apnea is also known as treatment – emergent central sleep apnea. It is happening when someone has both central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.

Central sleep apnea: This type of apnea is happening when your brain does not send proper signals to the muscles which can control the breathing.

Obstructive sleep apnea: This type of apnea is more common form which is happening when the throat muscles relax.

If you think that you have any type of sleep apnea, then you should talk to your doctor. Treatment of sleep apnea can ease your symptoms and it can help to prevent heart problems and other complications.

Symptoms of sleep apnea

The signs and symptoms of central and obstructive sleep apneas overlap which is making it in some cases difficult to determine which type of apnea you have. Here are the most common signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas [1]:

  • Irritability
  • Attention problems
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Morning headache
  • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath, which more likely indicates central sleep apnea
  • Episodes of breathing cessation during sleep witnessed by another person
  • You have a loud snoring, which is usually more prominent in obstructive sleep apnea

sleep apnea

Causes of central sleep apnea

This is a less common form of apnea which is happening when your brain fails to transmit signals to your breathing muscles. This means that you make no effort to breathe for a short period. You can have difficult time getting to sleep or staying asleep or you may awaken with shortness of breath.

Causes of obstructive sleep apnea: This type of apnea is happening when the muscles in the back of your throat relax [2]. These muscles support the soft palate which is the triangular piece of tissue hanging from the uvula (soft palate), the tonsils, the side walls of the throat and the tongue. When your muscles relax, then your airway closes or narrows as you breathe in and you cannot get an adequate breath in. This can lower the levels of oxygen in your blood. The brain senses the inability to breathe and briefly rouses you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway. This awakening is usually so brief and you do not remember it in many cases. You may make a gasping, choking or snorting sound. This pattern can repeat itself 5 – 30 times or more each hour, all night long. These disruptions in your sleeping can impair the ability to reach the desired deep and restful phases of sleep and you probably feel sleepy during your working hours. People who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea may not be aware that their sleep was interrupted. Some people who have this type of apnea think that they have slept well during the night.

Risk factors: This can affect every single person even children. But also there are some factors which can increase your risk.

Stroke: People who have had a stroke are having increased risk of developing central sleep apnea or treatment – emergent central sleep apnea. [3]

Being older: Older people and middle – aged people have a higher risk of central sleep apnea. [4]

Heart disorders: People who have congestive heart failure are having higher risk of central sleep apnea. [5]

Obstructive sleep apnea:

Being older: Older adults are having increased risk of getting obstructive sleep apnea. [4]

Being male: Men are twice more likely to have this type of apnea. Women can increase their risk if they are overweight and this risk is also increasing after menopause. [6]

A narrowed airway: Some people have inherited a naturally narrow throat. Or adenoids or tonsils can become enlarged and to block the airway, particularly in children who have sleep apnea. [7]


[1] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Sleep apnea. Retrieved from

[2] Suni E. Mouth and throat exercises to help stop snoring and improve OSA. 2020. Retrieved from

[3] Sharma S, Culebras A. Sleep apnoea and stroke. Stroke and Vascular Neurology. 2016;1(4):doi:10.1136/svn-2016-000038

[4] Kitakata H, Kohno T, Fukuda K. Sleep-disordered breathing in the elderly: is it distinct from that in the younger or middle-aged populations? Journal of Thoracic Disease. 2018;10(Suppl9):S1102–S1107.

[5] Drager LF, McEvoy D, Barbe F, et al. Sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease: Lessons from recent trials and need for team science. Circulation. 2017;136:1840–50.

[6] Lin CM, Davidson TM, Ancoli-Israel S. Gender differences in obstructive sleep apnea and treatment implications. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2008;12(6):481–96.

[7] Osman AM, Carter SG, Carberry JC, Eckert DJ. Obstructive sleep apnea: current perspectives. Nature and Science of Sleep. 2018;10:21–34.

Pardhan Singh
Pardhan Singh
A seasoned natural therapist with degree in Ayurvedic Medicine (BAMS) successful in treating various diseases through Ayurvedic treatments. You can contact Pradhan at [email protected]


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