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What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which you stop and start breathing while you sleep. If you don’t treat it, it can lead to loud snoring, feeling tired during the day, or more serious issues like heart problems or high blood pressure.

This is different from regular snoring, which is called primary snoring. Snoring can be caused by problems with the nose or throat, the way you sleep (especially sleeping on your back), being overweight or primary, or using alcohol or other drugs that make you sleepy. Primary snoring and snoring caused by sleep apnea are both caused by the tissues in the back of your throat vibrating. However, people with sleep apnea tend to:

  • Snore much louder than people who don’t usually do so.
  • Stop while they breathe a breath (for over 10 seconds)
  • Take small, quick breaths, or choke.
  • Be restless

Is there more than one kind of sleep apnea?

The three kinds are:

Obstructive sleep apnea. This is the type that most people have. It happens when your airways repeatedly get completely or partially blocked while you sleep, usually because the soft tissue in the back of your throat collapses. During these episodes, your diaphragm and chest muscles work harder than usual to open your airways. You may start to breathe in loud gasps or jerk your body. This can make it hard for you to sleep, cut off oxygen to your vital organs, and cause your heart to beat in an unusual way.

Central sleep apnea. Your airway doesn’t get blocked with this type. Instead, problems in your respiratory control center keep your brain from telling your muscles to breathe. It has to do with how your central nervous system works. Central sleep apnea is most common in people with neuromuscular diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), who have had a stroke, or who have heart failure or other forms of heart, kidney, or lung disease.

Complex sleep apnea syndrome. This condition, which doctors call treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, happens when you have both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Most of the time, the first symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea won’t be noticeable. Your bed partner may tell you about them instead. Most often, these are the signs and symptoms:

  • Snoring
  • Getting tired or falling asleep during the day
  • Sleeplessness or regular nighttime wakings
  • You wake up with a dry mouth or sore throat.
  • Suddenly waking up after gasping for air or choking
  • Having trouble focusing, forgetting things, or being grumpy
  • Stress or depression
  • Need to pee all the time at night
  • Wet nights
  • Problems with sexuality
  • Headaches

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