What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes interruptions in a person’s breathing cycle during sleep. Apnea refers to when you completely stop breathing for 10 seconds or more. On top of causing serious breathing problems, sleep apnea can also cause a person to wake up hundreds of times during the course of the night. This disruption can lead to a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form and it occurs when something blocks the airways during sleep. Your own tongue and throat muscles are often the culprit, because they become more relaxed while sleeping. This blockage causes the person to wake up, beginning the cycle of obstructive sleep.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Although snoring is the most common symptom of sleep apnea, it’s important to realize that it isn’t the only symptom. Sleep apnea express itself differently for everyone. Review the symptoms below to help determine if a Home Sleep Test, from our sister company Home Sleep Delivered, is right for you.

  • Bed wetting
  • Concentration problems or memory loss
  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • Dry mouth or sore throat upon waking
  • Gasping or choking
  • Falling asleep unexpectedly during the day
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Irritability 
  • Mood swings
  • Morning headaches
  • Night sweats
  • Restless sleep
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Snoring

Risks of Sleep Apnea

If left untreated, sleep apnea can increase your risk of a variety of serious health conditions. Educate yourself on the risks so you can start living a healthy and rested life.

Acid Reflux or G.E.R.D

Studies have shown a relationship between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and G.E.R.D. One study found that around 60 percent of patients with OSA also experienced G.E.R.D.

During the day when you are sitting up or standing, gravity helps keep stomach acid where it belongs – in your stomach. Then in the evening when you lay on the couch or in bed, these same acids can leak into your esophagus or even to your throat. This can cause you to wake up gagging or choking.

When you have G.E.R.D. and OSA, each condition exacerbates the other. However, consistent treatment of OSA through positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy improves symptoms of G.E.R.D.

Alcohol Use

When you experience stress, sadness or want to celebrate a life event, many people reach for alcohol to relax. It’s important to understand that although alcohol can make you fall asleep easily and sometimes even increase the amount of deep sleep during the first half of the night, studies show the effect is temporary. Alcohol leads to sleep disruptions the second half of the night.

If you have been diagnosed with OSA, the consequences of sleep apnea become more pronounced with alcohol consumption. The best advice is to completely abstain from alcohol use. At the very least, don’t consume alcohol for several hours before bedtime, and always use your treatment for sleep apnea.

Anxiety Disorder

Sleep deprivation can lead to symptoms that create stress and anxiety, such as heart palpitations, feeling on edge, irritability and depression. Some patients who live with sleep apnea have experienced severe anxiety and even panic attacks. Even though anxiety doesn’t cause sleep apnea, some research has suggested that it may worsen the symptoms in those already struggling with it.


An arrhythmia is an unusual beating of the heart, which may include a heart rate that is too fast, too slow or irregular. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is one of the most common types of arrhythmia and about 50 percent of people living with AFib or heart failure also have sleep apnea.

Research has shown that sleep apnea doesn’t have to be severe to raise your AFib risk. However, since treating sleep apnea is less challenging than treating AFib, it’s important to be consistent in treatment to prevent further risk of developing AFib.

Cardiovascular Disease

The connection between sleep apnea and heart disease is constantly evolving. Those suffering with cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke have a high prevalence of sleep apnea. Researchers estimate that if sleep apnea goes untreated it can raise your risk of dying from heart disease by up to five times. The National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research estimated that sleep apnea is probably responsible for 38,000 cardiovascular deaths annually.


Depression is a common and serious medical illness that can cause feelings of sadness or loss of interest. Symptoms of depression and sleep apnea can sometimes overlap, making it difficult for people experiencing one to realize they’re also experiencing the other. This is especially true because depression can be a symptom of sleep apnea. Both conditions share risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing either condition.


Diabetes is a disease in which the body’s ability to produce insulin is impaired, resulting in elevated levels of glucose in the blood and urine. If you have diabetes, sleep apnea can make it more difficult to manage your symptoms. This is because when your breathing pauses while you sleep, there is an increase in carbon dioxide in your blood which leads to insulin resistance and more sugar in your blood stream.

Many physicians have been successful in improving diabetes symptoms by treating sleep apnea. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s a good idea to get tested for sleep apnea.

Enlarged Tonsils and Tongue

Oversized tonsils and tongue place people at a higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea. This means dentists are the best healthcare professionals to alert you to your risk. Although they can’t definitively make a sleep apnea diagnosis, they can let you know if you need to see a sleep specialist.

Fluctuating Oxygen Levels

Sleep apnea can increase your risk for lowered oxygen levels in the blood. During periods of apnea, which is when you stop breathing in the night, you receive less air. This means less oxygen is being delivered to your body. When your oxygen levels are low for more than five minutes during the sleep cycle, this is a condition called hypoxemia.

Many people living with sleep apnea may suffer from hypoxia, a similar condition in which the tissues of the body are deprived of adequate oxygen. Prolonged hypoxia can cause organ damage with the brain, heart and liver being particularly susceptible.

Frequent Sinus Infection

If you suffer from inflamed or infected sinus cavities more than four times a year, you might have sinusitis. This condition can cause nasal congestion, inflammation in the ear and sinus pressure. Chronic cases of sinusitis can point to an underlying issue, such as a blocked airway, which can lead to sleep apnea. If you fight against frequent sinus infections, you might need to be tested for sleep apnea.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a medical condition in which the pressure in the arteries is consistently elevated. If you have sleep apnea your risk for hypertension increases. While sleeping your oxygen levels fall, and receptors in the brain are triggered to increase the available oxygen to the heart and brain so the body can keep functioning. This increase in blood flow puts pressure on the blood vessels’ walls, elevating levels to higher than normal.

Unlike in cases of high blood pressure that are caused by diet or weight, simply making lifestyle changes cannot solve high blood pressure triggered by sleep apnea without treating the sleep disorder itself.

Impaired Concentration

If you’ve ever tossed and turned all night, you know it’s hard to focus the next day. Sleep apnea can hinder your concentration, cause memory problems and lead to poor decision making and stress. Studies have shown that sleep apnea lowers levels of GABA which is a mood inhibitor that helps keep you calm, and it elevates glutamate levels which causes you to become stressed.


Obesity is the leading cause of obstructive sleep apnea. Excess body weight can contribute to increased pressure on upper airways which lead to collapse and decreased neuromuscular control making it more difficult to breathe. Losing as little as 5-10% of your weight can potentially reduce the severity of sleep apnea or even prevent its development.


Roughly 90 million people suffer from snoring, and half of those may have a sleep disorder. Although you may snore, it doesn’t mean you have obstructive sleep apnea. One way to tell the difference in typical snoring and OSA is to be mindful of a few symptoms. Does your snoring cause you to wake up gasping for air? Are you consistently sleepy during the day? Do you sleep with your mouth open? If so, you might have OSA.


According to the National Stroke Foundation, sleep apnea can be an after-effect of stroke, but can also be the cause of a first time or recurrent stroke. The condition causes low oxygen levels and high blood pressure, both of which can increase the risk of stroke.