What is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a breathing disorder which the throat muscles relax to the point of collapse, causing a cessation of breathing flow during sleep for a period of 10 seconds at least.

The respiratory pauses can produce among other effects a decrease in oxygen levels and an increase in carbon dioxide levels in the blood which,can lead to other problems such as an increase in cardiac work and high blood pressure.

When you stop breathing involuntarily the respiratory control centre in the brain sends an activation signal to wake you up just enough to get some air and breathe again. Then you fall asleep again and the cycle starts all over again. This can happen more than 50 times in an hour throughout the night even if you are not aware of it.

As you might imagine, not getting oxygen and constantly being triggered to breathe again, hour after hour, night after night, puts the body under a high degree of stress.

Sleep apnea currently affects more than 3 men in 10 and almost 1 woman in 5, so it is more common than you might think1

Sleep-disordered breathing affects 34% of men and 17% of women aged between 30-70. Peppard et al. Increased Prevalence of Sleep-Disordered Breathing in Adults. Am J Epidemiol. 2013 (5.17)


Learn the differences between the three main types of sleep apnoea and how to recognise their symptoms.

There are three main types of sleep apnoea:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (SAOS)

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea accounting for 84% of apnea analyses 1.The walls of the oropharynx close completely and an inspiratory collapse lasting more than 10 seconds is created.

The upper airway may become obstructed for the following reasons:

  • Relaxation of muscles during sleep obstructing the air passage
  • The weight of the tissues in the oropharynx and neck narrows the airway
  • Tonsilitis or other temporary reasons
  • Structural reasons, such as the shape of the nose, neck or jaw

Morgenthaler TI, Kagramanov V, Hanak V, Decker PA. Complex sleep apnea syndrome: is it a unique clinical syndrome? Sleep 2006;29(9):1203–9

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

Central sleep apnoea is the least prevalent type of sleep apnea and can be caused by heart failure or due to an injury involving the brain such as:

  • Brain tumour
  • Viral infection in the brain
  • Chronic respiratory disease

Patients with central sleep apnea have a disorder at the level of the central nervous system, in which the respiratory control centre does not send the nerve stimulus to breathe. Communication between the brain and the body is lost and the automatic action of breathing is interrupted. In some cases the airway is open, but air does not flow into the lungs and there is no obstruction or respiratory effort.
People who suffer from SCA do not usually snore, so sometimes it is a pathology which goes unnoticed.

Mixed Apnea

Mixed apnea is a combination of central apnoea (when there is no breathing effort) and obstructive apnoea (when there is obstruction of the upper airway) and is the least common type of sleep apnea.


Warning signs during the night:

  • Snoring
  • Restless sleep
  • Pauses in breathing during the night
  • Frequent urination during the night (urination)

Alert signs during the day:

  • Sleepiness
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty maintaining concentration or memory

The first and most common sign of sleep apnea is usually detected by the person sleeping with you or a relative: snoring.

You may also be told that when you sleep you make strange sounds like you are panting or drowning and that you have a restless and agitated sleep.It is important to recognise the symptoms of sleep apnea in order to take the necessary measures and improve your health. It is also important to know that sleep apnea pathology is related to other pathologies.

  • Constant fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Morning headaches
  • Apathy and depression
  • Night sweats
  • Weight gain
  • Lack of energy
  • Memory loss
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Frequent urination during the night

Sleep apnea is also linked to other pathologies such as:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Cardiac Insufficiency
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Sleep apnea is associated with several health risks that can have serious consequences. A sleep apnea study conducted over the last 20 years has shown that people suffering from moderate to severe sleep apnea have a higher risk of cardiovascular accident and death1

Untreated sleep apnea affects a person’s quality of life and mental well being which often leads to symptoms of depression.1 In some cases sleep apnoea can affect your work and safety

Reference:1 Marshall NS; Wong KK; Cullen SR; Knuiman MW; Grunstein RR.


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