What is Sleep Apnea?

The simplest way to answer the question what is sleep apnea? is to describe it as a condition in which a person momentarily stops breathing while asleep. It is also sometimes referred to as shallow breathing while sleeping. People experience these pauses in breathing for periods ranging between seconds to a minute or more. Within one hour, someone suffering from sleep apnea might experience this kind of disrupted breathing several times - even as often as 30 times within that 60 minute period.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Whether the disruption lasts for seconds or minutes, eventually the person will resume normal breathing. This resumed breathing may be characterized by loud snoring, gasping for breath or, worse still, choking. Although someone suffering from sleep apnea may not feel its effects while they are sleeping, it disrupts their sleeping patterns and detracts from the quality of sleep they get. This results in insufficient quality sleep and the sufferer will likely become sleepy and weary during the day.

Since the sufferer themselves may not realize that they have this condition, it is therefore difficult to diagnose during a normal check up. Because the condition only happens during sleep, if the sleep apnea sufferer isn't awakened by his / her own gasping or choking, it is often diagnosed by their sleep partners. However, simply because someone notices that you don't sleep normally, doesn't necessarily mean that you are suffering from sleep apnea.

Out of the millions of adults who have sleep apnea, many are not even aware of it. Although this condition can affect people of any age, older people are at a greater risk as well as those suffering from obesity. And, although men stand a greater chance of suffering from the condition, women, especially after menopause, are also prone to suffer from sleep apnea.

Now that you have the answer to the question what is sleep apnea? let's look at some of the reasons why you may be suffering from sleep apnea.

  • it runs in your family
  • have narrow passageways in your throat, mouth, or nose
  • you have abnormally large tonsils
  • you have a recessed chin
  • you have a large overbite or a small jaw
  • you're overweight
  • you have a large neck (larger than 16 inches for women and 17 for men)

Besides the list above, other causes of sleep apnea include:

  • smoking
  • excessive and frequent alcohol intake

People over the age of 40 tend to suffer from sleep apnea more than younger individuals. Also, ethnicity seems to play a role in whether or not a person is susceptible to sleep apnea. Hispanics, African-Americans as well as Pacific Islanders have been shown to be more at risk than other ethnic groups.