Sleep Apnea (cont.)
Obstructive sleep apnea causes your airway to narrow or close off, reducing or stopping breathing for short periods during sleep.
If your breathing stops, you may make grunting, gasping, or snorting sounds and restless body movements. As breathing resumes, loud snoring starts. This may happen many times during a night.
The more often it happens, the more severe your sleep apnea is. Sleep apnea is called either mild, moderate, or severe.
When you stop breathing, the oxygen levels in your blood go down and carbon dioxide levels go up. This makes your heart and blood vessels work harder and can affect your heart rate and nervous system. That in turn may:
- Lead to other problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Make these other problems worse and harder to treat.
- Raise your risk of having a stroke.3
Because sleep apnea disturbs your sleep, it can make you very tired during the day. So if you have sleep apnea, you may:
- Be more likely to have a car accident.
- Do poorly at school or work and have trouble concentrating.
- Have memory problems.
- Have personality changes, anxiety, and depression.
- Lose the desire for sex.
What Increases Your Risk
Certain things make it more or less likely that you will have obstructive sleep apnea. Some of these you cannot change, while others you can.
Things you can't change
- Aging. Sleep apnea is most common in people age 30 and older.
- Being male. Sleep apnea is more common in men.1
- Family history. If other members of your family have sleep apnea, you are more likely to have it than someone who doesn't have a family history of it.
- Ethnicity. Blacks, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders have a greater risk of sleep apnea than whites. Blacks get sleep apnea at a younger age than whites.1
- Deformities of the spine. Deformities of the spine, such as scoliosis, may interfere with breathing and contribute to sleep apnea.
- Conditions that may cause head and face abnormalities. Conditions such as Marfan's syndrome and Down syndrome may result in abnormalities and increase the risk for sleep apnea.
- Menopause. Recent studies show that sleep apnea occurs more often in women who have been through menopause than in women who have not.1 After menopause, women get sleep apnea at a rate similar to men.2 Experts don't know why or how menopause increases the risk of sleep apnea.
Things you may be able to change
- Obesity. About 7 out of 10 people who have sleep apnea are obese.1 Obesity is the factor most likely to lead to sleep apnea.
- Neck circumference. People who are overweight may have extra tissue around their neck, adding to their risk for sleep apnea. The risk increases for a man whose neck measures more than 17 inches around and for a woman whose neck measures more than 16 inches around.
- Enlarged tissues of the nose, mouth, or throat.Enlarged tissues in the nose, mouth, or throat can block your airway while you sleep, making sleep apnea more likely. Surgery can sometimes correct the blockage and improve sleep apnea.
- Bone deformities. Bone deformities of the nose, mouth, or throat can interfere with breathing, causing sleep apnea. Some people who have sleep apnea have a small, receding jaw. Surgery can sometimes correct these deformities and improve sleep apnea.
- Use of alcohol or medicine. Drinking alcohol or taking certain medicines before going to sleep can increase the risk for sleep apnea. Medicines include sleeping pills and sedatives.
- Sleeping on your back and using pillows. Sleeping on your back and using one or more pillows may make sleep apnea worse.
- Smoking. Smoking can increase your risk for sleep apnea, because the nicotine in tobacco relaxes the muscles that keep the airways open.
- Poor sleep habits. For example, going to bed in different places may increase your risk for sleep apnea.
- Disorders of the hormone (endocrine) system. Disorders that may increase your risk include hypothyroidism and acromegaly.