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Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by interruptions of a person's breathing while he or she is asleep. People who have it will often snore loudly and be sleepy during the daytime. The goals of treatment are to relieve symptoms and restore regular nighttime breathing. If sleep apnea is untreated, the chances of having high blood pressure, a heart attack, or stroke are increased.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep.
With sleep apnea, your breathing stops or gets very shallow while you are sleeping. Each pause typically lasts 10 to 20 seconds or more. These pauses can occur 20 to 30 times or more an hour.
If you have sleep apnea, your sleep is not restful because:
  • These brief episodes of increased airway resistance (and breathing pauses) occur many times
  • You may have many brief drops in the level of oxygen in your blood
  • You move out of deep sleep and into light sleep several times during the night, resulting in poor sleep quality.
When your sleep is upset throughout the night, you can be very sleepy during the day.

Types of Sleep Apnea

The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. During sleep, not enough air is able to flow into your lungs through your mouth and nose, even though you try to breathe. When this happens, the amount of oxygen in your blood may drop. Normal breaths then start again with a loud snort or choking sound.
(Click Types of Sleep Apnea for more information.)

What Are the Symptoms?

People with sleep apnea often have loud snoring and daytime sleepiness. Another symptom of sleep apnea is frequent long pauses in breathing during sleep, followed by choking and gasping for breath. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Some people with sleep apnea don't even know they snore.
Sleep apnea happens more often in people who are overweight, but even thin people can have it.
A family member or bed partner may notice the signs of sleep apnea first.
(Click Sleep Apnea Symptoms for more information.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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