What is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea  is a sleep disorder in which patients stop breathing periodically during sleep. Apnea literally translates as "cessation of breathing."

During an apnea event, air is blocked from making its way to the lungs by obstructions in the upper airway. These obstructions are caused when either fatty tissues in the throat collapse back into the airway, enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids block the airway, or the tongue falls back into the airway.

This often leads to loud snorts and even choking sounds as the patient struggles to breathe (most often without even knowing it) followed by loud gasps. Apnea events often last for up to 10 seconds at a time before breathing resumes for a period.

When blood oxygen levels in the body drop, the brain partially awakens from sleep to send signals to the respiratory system to increase breathing effort.

Some patients experience hundreds of apnea events in a night of sleep.

Signs of Sleep Apnea


There is a good chance that if you snore, you experience at least some level of sleep disturbance. If you wake up in the morning after 7-8 hours of sleep and are still consistently tired you may have sleep apnea. The following is a short list of signs of sleep apnea:

  • Snoring
  • Insomnia and difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up gasping for breath, or short of breath
  • Reports of snorting or sudden choking sounds
  • Persistent headaches throughout the day
  • Excessive sleepiness or grogginess
  • Needing to take naps during the day