What Is Sleep Apnea


Sleep apnea (also spelled as sleep apnoea) is defined as a sleep disorder that is characterized by pauses in breathing or instances of shallow breathing while you sleep. These pauses in breathing can last from a few seconds to minutes. They may occur 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.

Sleep Apnea Breathing Illustration

The book below is an excellent resource on the topic of sleep apnea. Note that a new page will be displayed when the image or link is clicked.

Sleep Apnea: Hacking Sleep Apnea – 19 Strategies to Sleep & Breathe Easy Again:

When you have these pauses in your breathing or instances of shallow breathing, it will often result in you moving out of deep sleep and into light sleep. This causes the quality of your sleep to be poor, which makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. When breathing is paused, carbon dioxide builds up in the bloodstream.

There are three types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This is the more common of the two forms of apnea and it is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep. OSA means that there is an absence of airflow but the respiratory effort is still there.
  • Central Sleep Apnea: Central sleep apnea is a less common type of sleep apnea but unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked. The area of your brain that controls your breathing doesn’t send the correct signals to your breathing muscles, so as a result, you may not breathe for brief periods of time. Central sleep apnea means that there is an absence of both airflow and respiratory effort. Central sleep apnea can affect anyone but it is more common in people that have certain medical conditions or use certain medicines. Central sleep apnea can occur with obstructive sleep apnea or by itself. People who have central sleep apnea don’t usually snore.
  • Mixed: combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea symptoms. People with mixed sleep apnea will usually start off with central apnea episodes for about 10 seconds, and then obstructive sleep apnea episodes will begin. The cause of mixed sleep apnea is unclear, but basically, if an obstructive sleep apnea episode happens during a central apnea episode, then you have mixed apnea. Many people consider mixed sleep apnea as something called complex sleep apnea, even though they represent two different things. Complex sleep apnea occurs when the CPAP machine treats the obstructive sleep apnea episodes but then central sleep apnea episodes occur. Mixed sleep apnea is diagnosed when you have both obstructive and central sleep apnea episodes.

Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. Doctors usually can’t detect the condition during routine office visits. Also, there is no blood test can help diagnose the condition.

Sleep researchers classify sleep apnea as mild, moderate or severe. Less than five of these pauses per hour is considered normal, five to 15 is considered mild sleep apnea, 15 to 30 is considered moderate sleep apnea, and greater than 30 is considered severe sleep apnea.

Most people who have sleep apnea don’t know they have it because it only occurs when they are asleep. A family member, spouse or bed partner might be the first to notice signs of sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that requires long-term management. Lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, surgery, and breathing devices can successfully treat sleep apnea in many people.

You can find other books on the topic of sleep apnea here. Please drop me a comment if you have found another book that you found informative on the topic of sleep apnea.

40 thoughts on “What Is Sleep Apnea

  1. Plume1

    Hi Shawn I had the Sleep apnea test . It was a bad time. Not only trying to sleep while wired but they forgot the earplugs and after I fell asleep a very noise couple came in and kept me up for hours.
    If it was not for you website I would have just told them what they could do with their Machine.
    Thank you So much

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Hi,
      I’m sorry to hear you had such a bad experience. I was fortunate in that I had a private room, so nobody came into the room except the technician. Granted, being hooked up to all the electrodes didn’t allow for the best of sleeps, it definitely sounds like I had a better experience than you. I hope that you have a better experience the next time, if there is one.
      Thanks for the comments.
      Shawn

      Reply
  2. Alma

    Hi Shawn,

    Your website is about a very important matter, and reading about the symptoms I am wondering if I might have sleep apnea as well. I have a good night sleep only now and then, and I am tired practically every day all day long. That’s bad life, and my mood reflects it too.

    I really think I’ll get a check. Thanks a lot, your work here may be the turning point for me!

    Alma

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Hi Alma,
      Thanks for checking my site and for your comments. Like you I was always tired every day and frustrated and depressed. I hope that you do get it checked out. For me personally, using a CPAP machine has made a huge difference in my life. I don’t snore, which makes my wife happy! I don’t have acid reflux anymore which was never any fun, and most important, I don’t feel exhausted during the day. I don’t need to have a nap when I get home from work. Good luck!
      Shawn

      Reply
  3. Alma

    Shawn, I’m glad you’re sharing your experiences with sleep apnea. By sharing, you’ll help others who may have this problem but not aware of it.

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Hi Alma,
      I hope that people will find the information on my website useful and informative.
      Regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  4. Allen Williams

    Hi Shawn,

    While taking classes at local college, one of my classmates had sleep apnea. He would sometimes fall asleep during class, stop breathing and wake-up. Sometimes it was bit disconcerting to other classmates.

    This is awesome information!

    Keep up the good work!

    Be Blessed,
    Allen

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Thanks very much for your comments Allen. I used to know a guy at work who would fall asleep every afternoon after lunch at the drop of a dime. I guess he stopped breathing because he would startle himself, wake up for a second and then fall back to sleep. We were told later that he had narcolepsy.
      Regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  5. Sheila

    Shawn. This is great information. Back in the day my ex had sleep apnea. This was when there was no information (and barely internet) to tell us about this condition – we had to rely on expensive doctors and then even more expensive sleep studies. I can’t remember the exact number, but I seem to remember them saying he stopped his breathing something like over 600 times. Crazy!! Then he had to wear this huge contraption on his head. For him it was uncomfortable, heavy and cumbersome, it was loud, so he never wore it.

    Thank you for your education on this condition. I think my current husband might be suffering from it, but I also believe he doesn’t use his pillows properly to allow for proper airflow.

    Keep up the good work educating people about this!

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Hi Sheila.
      Thank you for your comments. That’s a rather large number of times where your ex would stop breathing!!! My dad was measured at 96 times/hour where he would stop breathing. Myself, I was measured at 35 times/hour. Thankfully, the machines today are much quieter, otherwise my wife would still make me sleep in another room. The mask I use is also fairly light, so lucky for me, I don’t find it uncomfortable. Given the alternative, I don’t mind wearing it at all.
      Regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  6. Joze

    Hi Shawn
    Thank you very much for those information. I have one friend with this kind of problem. When he has spoken about his problem I took this like a joke. After all he look prety cool. I realy didn’t know that sleep apnea can result such a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, irregular heart beats, heart attacks, diabetes, depression, headaches and many more….
    Additionally I didn’t know that neglected sleep apnea could cause bad performance in day-to-day activities, such as at the office and even college, motor vehicle crashes, and even scholastic underachievement in children and even teens.
    Regards
    Joze

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Thanks for your comment Joze! You’re right, sleep apnea is not a joke. I was told I had a heart attack right before having major knee surgery. I attributed it to a severe bout of acid reflux, but apparently not. Both acid reflux and heart attacks, etc. can be the result of sleep apnea.
      Regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  7. Jamal

    Hi Shawn,
    I think the information on your site is both useful and informative. About a week ago.. I finished a 3 day at home sleep study test… so I’m waiting to hear if I have a sleep apnea or not but your site thoroughly explains what a sleep apnea is with visual aids and the various treatments. In the event that I have to acquire a cpap machine , I will definitely refer back to your site for description of different cpap options.
    Thanks
    Jamal

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Hi Jamal,
      I am grateful for your comments and hope that the CPAP machine options on my site prove to be useful to you. I hope you find out the results of your sleep study soon.
      Good Luck!
      Shawn

      Reply
  8. donald

    Hey Shawn, thanks very much for the informative blog. I always just thought I didn’t sleep well and snored rather a lot. Now I know better, how is it the once you get a diagnosis you feel better about your problem! Doesn’t make much sense, since now you have a problem, when before you had your head in the sand and no problem! LOL. Thanks once again for your informative blog!

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Hi Donald,
      Thanks very much for your comments! It is interesting, sometimes people just don’t want to know what they have suspected. I hope that my site will allow people to act on their suspicions and first get confirmation if they do have a sleeping disorder and then more importantly, get the treatment they need and deserve.
      Regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  9. Amos

    Interesting read Shawn. It#s is indeed difficult to diagnose and worse still if one is not aware of it as an individual. Keep on sharing the valuable information.

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Hi Amos!
      Indeed it is difficult to diagnose. Without the help of a spouse or bed partner, you may never know if you have it. I hope that this site proves helpful to people who even suspect they have a sleeping disorder to go and get it checked out. The result of inaction could produce some serious problems down the road.
      All the best,
      Shawn

      Reply
  10. Chris

    Hi Shawn
    I had a sleep test a few years ago and with all the wires etc., I didn’t feel it was a fair test. Since then, I’ve had my reflux dealt with and now that I can sleep on my side it has made a big difference.
    Great site and good information!
    Cheers
    Chris

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Thanks for the comments Chris! I had my acid reflux issue dealt with by a prescription from my doctor. However, now that I use a CPAP machine, I don’t get acid reflux anymore and so I don’t need to take these pills. Glad to hear that you’ve had your issues resolved.
      Regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  11. Patricia

    Shawn,
    This was a great article I never really knew what sleep apnea was. I guess I didn’t know that it is normal to stop breathing up to 5 times per hour Wow scary. By reading your article I now know that my husband may have Sleep Apnea too. He sometimes stops breathing and makes a loud snort when he starts breathing. I will definitely be reading more on the treatments page. Thanks again great article!

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Hi Patricia,
      Thank you for the comments. Yes, apparently it is normal to stop breathing up to 5 times/hr. My dad was tested at 96 times/hr and I was tested at 35 times/hr. The sleep specialist told me that anything over 30 times/hr is considered severe. I hope that your husband is able to get tested and gets confirmation whether he has sleep apnea or not.
      Good luck!
      Shawn

      Reply
  12. lisamariefranks

    Shawn,

    Another great website. Did you know that sleep apnea can also cause high blood sugar? Also, 1/5 of persons with MS have sleep apnea.

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Hi Lisa,
      Thanks so much for your comments! I was aware of the high blood pressure but I didn’t know about the MS fact. Thanks for sharing that information!
      Regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  13. Morgan

    Shawn, thanks for the info on the different types of sleep apnea. My partner snores lightly, but it is continuous throughout the entire night to the point where it keeps me awake. He often complains that he didn’t get a good night’s rest despite sleeping usually 10+ hours every night. He’s also mentioned that he rarely ever dreams. Is this an effect of moving from deep sleep to light sleep? If so, is it possible he has mild sleep apnea?

    Reply
    1. Shawn

      Thank you for your comments Morgan! It sounds like your partner should get tested for sleep apnea. I’m not a doctor but you describe a lot of the symptoms that I started with. If he doesn’t dream much it could be due to sleep apnea because you don’t get much of the deep REM sleep that you need. I hope he gets tested, for both your sakes, just so you can start getting some sleep.
      Good luck!
      Best regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  14. Tony Barton

    Hi Shawn,
    My wife tells me I have the symptoms, it hasn`t bothered me as I don`t experience it obviously.
    A few years ago I did quite a lot of Zen meditation and my wife noticed that the heavy snoring and restlessness
    went away, could have something to do with less stress. I don`t feel too tired during the day unless of course I`ve
    been overdoing physical work or exercises so I can`t think I have acute apnea but it`s worth looking into.
    Great site Shawn, I like it.

    Tony

    Reply
    1. Shawn Post author

      Hi Tony,
      Thanks for the comments on my sleep apnea website. You may not be bothered by any of the symptoms yet, but that may change over time. I was the same way. My wife told me I snored like crazy but I didn’t listen to her. Then I started to wake myself up because I could hear myself snore. Then I started being tired all day, even though I got 8 hours of sleep. Obviously, it wasn’t a good “quality” sleep. I hope you don’t have it, but you may want to go and get it checked out, just to be on the safe side and to either confirm or deny your wife’s suspicions.
      Regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  15. Danielle

    Reading this post got me disturbed a bit especially realizing that sleep apnea goes undiagnosed. The idea also that when breathing is paused, carbon dioxide builds in the blood stream is a worrying one.

    Sometimes we may see people being sleepy during the day and think that they are being lazy because we don’t see anything else wrong with them and yet sleep apnea could be the cause.

    This is information most people will need to read and understand.

    Brilliant article. The illustrations made the condition so clear in my mind.

    Thank you.

    Danielle

    Reply
    1. Shawn Post author

      Hi Danielle,
      That is a main problem with sleep apnea. Most often it goes undetected, simply because a number of the symptoms only happen when you are asleep. For many years my wife said that I snored and yet I didn’t believe her because I thought it would wake me up. Eventually I did start to wake myself up. I was always exhausted during the day and finally my wife recommended I go and get tested for sleep apnea. I’m glad I did because I have severe obstructive sleep apnea and the CPAP treatment has made a huge difference in my life. My wife said that the first night I wore the CPAP mask, my snoring stopped! She was ecstatic, to say the least, because now it meant that she could get a good night’s sleep with me in the same room.

      I know a lot of family and friends that have sleep apnea and that list keeps growing. It is vital that people who suspect they might have a sleep disorder to get tested. Untreated sleep apnea can take years off your life and lead to many other physical problems.

      Thank you for your comments Danielle. My intention is to make people aware of the dangers of untreated sleep apnea and the signs to look out for.

      Regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  16. Bill

    Hi Shawn I too have sleep apnea was diagnosed back in 1987. University of Chicago Hospital. This was very new back then. I went for sleep study it actually was in a closet. I am not joking that is how new this was. They put a hospital bed in a janitor closet had all the wires run up over the walls. So when I looked at your site I though I am happy to see you are trying to help people understand you can live well. Sleep and feel very rested> Thank you foer helping others with this issue>

    Reply
    1. Shawn Post author

      Hi Bill!
      Nice to meet you. Thanks for your comments. I don’t think I know anyone who has had sleep apnea as long as you. Thankfully my sleep study was done in a nice big private room. Did they have CPAP machines back then? This is a subject that is very important to me. I’m convinced my dad died from it and I know a lot of family and friends that have it. I hope that people find the information on my site informative. That was one of the main goals for creating it.
      Best regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  17. Terry Jackson

    Hi Shawn love the page and you have a lot of good information here. I had sleep obstructive sleep apena and was diagnosed by the doctor at a borderline level He said I didn’t need a CPAP machine to ensure I kept breathing but he die recommend I consider it to improve my sleeping. On my test I had 20 episodes of restless sleep matching with 20 times stopping breathing for a few seconds So I got one and used it for about 6 months but I was in the process of losing a lot of weight and I eventually got to not need it. My Doctor has now approved my not needing it.

    Reply
    1. Shawn Post author

      Hello Terry!
      I appreciate you taking the time to look at my sleep apnea site and leaving some comments. I’m glad to hear that you were able to lose sufficient weight so that you no longer need to use a CPAP machine. My tests showed that I stopped breathing 35 times/hr, which is considered severe. I need to lose weight as well but I’m having a difficult time doing so. It would definitely be nice to not have to use my CPAP machine, but the reality for me is that I can’t sleep lying down without wearing my CPAP. Hopefully, you will not have to use your CPAP machine ever again. Congratulations!
      Regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  18. Dishan

    Hi Shawn,

    Really helpful article and as rightly pointed out many people would go without noticing it hence, getting into a chronic state. I would like to share some relevant points from an article I composed recently.

    – Apparently in US alone 1 out of 15 has it and around the world, about 100 million are affected by it
    – Apart from the causes mentioned here, being overweight, bigger neck, and eating fatty foods can also lead to this disorder. Eating high-fat food may make you sleepier fast but may prevent you from deep sleep.
    – So a low-fat healthy diet too would be helpful in fighting chronic sleep apnea.

    Hope this was useful!

    Reply
    1. Shawn Post author

      Hi Dishan,

      Thanks for the very helpful comments! I also think that the number of people who have some form of sleeping disorder is increasing every year. Certainly the diet is a large contributing factor so a combination of a healthy diet and exercise would help to combat chronic sleep apnea, as well as a host of other issues.

      Your suggestions were very useful and I hope other people find them useful as well!

      Regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  19. Gautam Parija

    Hi Andrew,

    I think I have it! I was wondering where the noise is coming from when I am sleeping. I have had sleep issues, but when I start doing meditation retreats all my sleep, other health problems get sorted. Hopefully, I get some deep sleep after my meditation intensive this time. So, I am not labeling my current issues.

    Thanks for the helpful information.

    Regards,
    Gautam

    Reply
    1. Shawn Post author

      Hi Gautam!

      You may want to consider going for a sleep study, just to confirm if you have sleep apnea or not. Best to know one way or the other, wouldn’t you agree? I hope that the meditation helps for you!

      I’m glad you found the information helpful, as that was my intention when I created this site.

      Best regards,
      Shawn

      Reply
  20. Gautam Parija

    Hi Shawn,

    Thank you for your reply. It’s a bit tricky as I live in India now. So, a sleep study may not be possible here.

    But yes, whenever I am in a meditation retreat, I probably get the best sleep of years!

    I hope to travel again soon and do intensive meditation.
    I will read through your other posts, and maybe I will find more helpful information.

    Thanks again and best regards,
    Gautam

    Reply
    1. Shawn Post author

      Hi Gautam,
      I’m glad to hear that you sleep better when you’re in a meditation retreat. Unfortunately for me, I don’t do that but I do find that my CPAP treatment allows me to have a good night’s sleep and feel refreshed the next day. I would be happy to answer any other questions you may have.
      Thanks for your comments.
      Regards,
      Shawn

      Reply

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