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Sleep apnea is characterized by apnea (Latin for “without breath”) episodes during sleep. The sufferer’s breathing may stop for 10 seconds or longer, at rates ranging from 5 to 50 times an hour.
Of the three types of sleep apnea - obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea and mixed sleep apnea - obstructive sleep apnea is the most common.
A blockage or narrowing of the airways in your nose, mouth or throat generally causes obstructive sleep apnea. This usually occurs when the throat muscles and tongue relax during sleep and partially block the airway.
Sleep apnea can also occur if you have bone deformities or larger than normal tissues in your nose, mouth or throat. For example, you may have large tonsils. During the day when you are awake and standing up, this may not cause problems. However, when you lie down at night, your tonsils can press down on your airway, narrowing it and causing sleep apnea.
Other factors that make sleep apnea more likely include being obese, using certain medicines or alcohol before bed and sleeping on your back.
Loud snoring and feeling very sleepy during the day are the two main symptoms. Your bed partner may notice periods when you stop breathing during sleep. Other symptoms may include tossing and turning during sleep, waking up with a headache and feeling irritated and sleepy after a full night’s sleep.
Are you one of the 40 million Americans living with a sleep disorder? Take this informal sleep quiz to find out.
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, you may have a sleep disorder.