MSD Manual

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Sleep Apnea
Sleep Apnea
Sleep Apnea

    During breathing, the lungs are filled with air, and oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide in the alveoli. The carbon dioxide leaves the body during exhalation. Normally, this process occurs without interruption.

    Sleep apnea is a very common sleeping disorder that is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. An apnea, or a period of time when breathing stops, generally lasts 10 to 20 seconds and may occur up to 20 to 30 times per hour every night.

    There are three types of sleep apnea:

    • Obstructive sleep apnea

    • Central sleep apnea

    • Mixed sleep apnea (a combination of both)

    Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when muscles in the back of the throat, which support the soft palate, relax. As the muscles relax, the airway is narrowed and breathing is temporarily blocked. This lowers the oxygen levels in the blood, triggering the brain to awaken the body from sleep in order to reopen the airway.

    Obstructive sleep apnea is most commonly found in overweight people. Common symptoms may include

    • Excessive daytime sleepiness

    • Loud snoring with periods of silence followed by gasps

    • Restless sleep

    • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat

    CPAP machines, the use of oral appliances, and oxygen therapy are common treatments. In some cases, surgery is used to remove obstructions blocking airway passages.

    Your doctor is the best source of information regarding treatment. It is important to discuss with your doctor which therapy, if any, is most appropriate.