Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which your breathing pauses for several seconds while you're sleeping. It's a common sleep disorder, but sleep apnea can be a serious condition. Breathing pauses may last about ten seconds, and these pauses may occur as many as 30 or more times an hour. Sleep apnea, a chronic condition, can cause you to experience daytime drowsiness, irritability, depression and forgetfulness. It can cause blood oxygen levels to drop as well. The combination of lowered blood oxygen and sleep deprivation may lead to hypertension and heart disease.
Types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type. It's characterized by loud snoring, snorting or choking noises while you sleep. However, it's important to note that not everybody who snores has sleep apnea. With obstructive sleep apnea, a blockage or blocked area is present in the airway during sleep. This causes you to breathe with pauses and often results in nocturnal noises—most notably, loud snoring. Central sleep apnea, on the other hand, isn't as common as obstructive sleep apnea. Snoring is generally not an issue with central sleep apnea because the cause is not a blocked airway. With this sleep disorder, your brain does not send signals to your body telling it to breathe while you're sleeping.
Risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea. The number one risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea is being overweight. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), nearly half of all sleep apnea sufferers are overweight. It's more common for the sleep disorder to appear in men than in women, although women are at higher risk during pregnancy and after menopause. The risk for sleep apnea increases with age as well. The NHLBI reports that "at least one in 10 people older than 65 has sleep apnea." If a family member has the disorder, you may be more likely to develop it. If your airway is naturally small due to a medical condition or even allergies, you're at a higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea. Children with enlarged tonsils are also at risk. Smoking can make your upper airway swell and this can contribute to obstructive sleep apnea. Quitting smoking can reduce your risk.
Risk factors for central sleep apnea. People who are suffering from life-threatening brainstem issues are at higher risk for central sleep apnea. The New York Times Health Guide reports there are certain conditions that can affect your risk for central sleep apnea. These include encephalitis, Parkinson's disease, arthritis in the cervical spine or base of the skull, stroke and certain medications. People with congestive heart failure are also at risk.