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Six facts about sleep apnea

Filed in
  • Snoring
  • Sleep apnea
  • Sleep Disorders

By Jack Cunningham  |  Aug 06, 2019
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Obstructive sleep apnea is a common and serious sleep disorder that repeatedly causes you to stop breathing during sleep. Warning signs include loud snoring and gasping or choking sounds as you sleep.

Estimates suggest that nearly 30 million adults in the U.S. have obstructive sleep apnea. Worldwide, sleep apnea may affect almost one billion people. Sleep apnea can affect anybody, even Emmy-nominated actress Amy Poehler.

Chances are, sleep apnea will impact your life in one way another. It may affect you, your bedpartner, or another family member. Here are six facts about sleep apnea to keep in mind.

1. There are two types of sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is most common. It occurs when your muscles relax during sleep, causing soft tissue to collapse and block the airway. You try to breathe but can’t. Central sleep apnea occurs due to instability in your body’s breathing control system. Your body stops trying to breathe during sleep.

2. Sleep apnea can occur at any age, even in infants.

Central sleep apnea can occur in infants. It may be a developmental problem or the result of another medical condition. More common is pediatric obstructive sleep apnea. In children, sleep apnea is often caused by large tonsils and adenoids that block the airway during sleep.

3. Sleep apnea increases with age.

Until the day that we master the technology to stop aging, getting older will continue to be a natural part of life. The risk of having sleep apnea increases with age, and women are more likely to have sleep apnea after menopause. The severity of sleep apnea also tends to progress slowly over time. Although the rate of sleep apnea appears to reach a plateau around the age of 65 years, you can still develop it later in life.

4. Sleep apnea is often undiagnosed.

It is estimated that about 23.5 million U.S. adults who have sleep apnea remain undiagnosed. Too many people fail to recognize that snoring is a warning sign for sleep apnea. One study also found that women tend to underreport snoring and underestimate its loudness. Women also may be more likely than men to report symptoms such as fatigue or insomnia.

5. Untreated, severe apnea can affect your health.

When ignored and untreated, sleep apnea can cause serious health problems. These problems include high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and depression.

6. Lifestyle changes can reduce sleep apnea severity.

The most important risk factor for sleep apnea is excess body weight. Getting closer to a healthy weight can help improve your breathing during sleep. You also should avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. For some people, sleep apnea mostly occurs while sleeping on their back. In that case, using positional therapy to promote side-sleeping can help.

Get help for sleep apnea from the sleep team at an AASM-accredited sleep center near you.

Reviewed by Dr. Lawrence Epstein


  1. 1 Lyla Peterson 30 Sep
    It's good to know that snoring can be a warning sign of sleep apnea. My father tends to snore very loudly and he has mentioned that he has been sleeping poorly. I will advise him to talk to a doctor about sleep apnea. 
  2. 2 Lloyd Bronson 11 Sep
    The fact that sleep apnea can cause harsh health repercussions such as higher blood pressure and heart disease was something that I was not aware of. My wife finds herself dealing with this ailment frequently and I have noticed a slight decline in her overall health.
  3. 3 AASM 03 Sep
    Joan - You can find a directory of sleep apnea support groups on the website of the American Sleep Apnea Association: 
  4. 4 Joan Plucinski 30 Aug
    Is there a sleep apnea support group near me ? Zip Code 06614 Stratford, Ct