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Sleep Apnea: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment | Sleep Reset

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Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that can cause breathing problems and disruptions while you sleep. It is a disorder that can affect anyone, and in addition to causing issues with your sleep, sleep apnea can lead to long-term health issues if you don’t seek treatment. Read on to learn more about sleep apnea and how you can address it to get better sleep.

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What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that interrupts your breathing while you’re sleeping. This can happen multiple times throughout the night. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to further health issues down the line, such as stroke, high blood pressure, heart problems, and diabetes. 

In addition to these serious medical issues, sleep apnea can also affect your daily activities. A lack of sleep can lead to difficulty concentrating at work or school, and sleep deprivation has its own set of side effects and consequences.

The Three Types

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and complex. Diagnosing the type of sleep apnea you have can help create a more effective treatment plan and understand the cause of your disorder. Let’s take a look at the three different types.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type. This type of sleep apnea happens when the upper airway is completely or partially blocked while you’re sleeping. This causes your diaphragm and chest to work harder to open the airway. A person with obstructive sleep apnea will usually gasp or jerk in their sleep to resume breathing. This can make sleeping difficult, cut your oxygen flow, and affect your normal heart rhythm.

Central Sleep Apnea

In central sleep apnea, the brain doesn’t send the signal for the muscles to breathe. This type of sleep apnea is a central nervous system issue.

Complex Sleep Apnea

Complex sleep apnea is sometimes referred to as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea. Complex sleep apnea means someone has both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

Common Symptoms

Because the symptoms of both types of sleep apnea are so common, it can be difficult to diagnose which type you have. This is why it’s important to get a professional diagnosis so you can find the source of your sleep disorder.

Here are some symptoms to watch out for:

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping for air
  • Instances during sleep where you stop breathing
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability 
  • Frequent awakenings
  • Dry mouth when you wake
  • Sore throat when you wake
  • Difficulty concentrating while awake
  • Headaches
  • Night sweats

Common Causes

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by the muscles relaxing in the back of your throat, causing your airways to narrow or close. Your brain will detect the lower levels of oxygen and wake you to reopen your airways. This interrupts your sleep phases throughout the night. Central sleep apnea is caused by your brain not transmitting signals to your breathing muscles.

While sleep apnea can happen to anyone, there are certain factors that may increase your risk of having it. 

Factors that increase your risk for obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Obesity
  • Being male
  • Being older
  • Smoking
  • Congestion in the nasal passages
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Having a thicker neck
  • Alcohol or sedative use
  • Certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma

Factors that increase your risk for central sleep apnea include:

  • Being older 
  • Being male
  • Medical conditions like heart disorder or stroke
  • Use of opioid medications

What Are the Health Effects?

Sleep apnea can cause various health effects that disrupt daily life. It can also lead to long-term health issues. Let’s take a look at some of these effects.

Effects on Daily Life

  • Excess daytime sleepiness and fatigue: Perhaps the most significant effect on your daily life will be daytime sleepiness and fatigue. Sleep apnea can disrupt your sleep cycle by causing frequent awakenings, even if you don’t notice them. These disruptions can cause you to feel tired and fatigued the next day.
  • Difficulty concentrating: A lack of sleep can make it hard to focus or concentrate on daily tasks at work or school. Those who feel drowsy and have trouble focusing may also increase their risk for workplace accidents or vehicular accidents.
  • Difficult regulating mood: You may feel more irritable when you’re not getting enough sleep. You may also feel more depressed or anxious.
  • Sleep-deprived partners: Sleep apnea can cause loud snoring, restlessness, and loud gasps or body jerks. This can make it difficult for partners to sleep in the same bed, and one partner will often have to sleep in another room.

Long-term Health Risks 

  • Increased risk for high blood pressure: Sleep apnea causes your blood oxygen levels to fluctuate irregularly throughout the night, putting strain on your cardiovascular system. This increases your risk for hypertension.
  • Increased risk for heart issues: Irregular blood oxygen levels and heart rhythms from sleep apnea can increase your risk for heart attacks and stroke.
  • Diabetes: Sleep apnea can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.
  • Liver problems: Sleep apnea can cause issues with liver function and can damage or even scar the liver.
  • Surgery complications: General anesthesia can cause difficulties for those with sleep apnea.

What Happens When You Stop Breathing?

When you stop breathing, your body temporarily gets lower levels of oxygen, which causes your heart rate to drop. When you suddenly start breathing again, your heart rate speeds up, and your blood pressure rises. When this happens frequently, you increase your risk for more serious health issues.

Higher blood pressure can cause your heart to grow more fibrous cells between muscles, making it more difficult to operate at peak efficiency. The heart issues that arise from sleep apnea can cause your heart to work harder and lose some of its blood-pumping efficiency.


If you have trouble sleeping or are experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor and learn about next steps. Your doctor will likely suggest an at-home test or an overnight sleep study. Each has its own set of pros and cons. Here’s what you can expect from each type of test.

At-Home Sleep Apnea Testing

At-home sleep apnea testing is more convenient than a sleep study, as it can be done in the comfort of your own bed. With an at-home sleep apnea test, you’ll be given a breathing monitor that will track your breathing and oxygen levels. While this device won’t be able to monitor as many metrics as an overnight sleep study, it can often be an effective way to diagnose more obvious cases of sleep apnea. 

Keep in mind that these tests may not completely rule out sleep apnea. Certain factors, like the sensors falling off or being applied improperly, can cause test variations that wouldn’t happen in an overnight sleep study. Finally, if you have serious medical conditions or additional sleep disorders that could disrupt the test reading, an at-home test likely won’t be an effective solution for you.

Overnight Sleep Study

Overnight sleep studies are much more comprehensive than at-home tests, but they require you to be monitored at a sleep lab. Also, this will be a more expensive option if it’s not covered by your insurance. These tests will monitor all of the signals an at-home test will, plus your brainwaves, muscle tone, leg movement, sleep phases, eye movement, airflow, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, and more. An overnight test can help diagnose sleep apnea and rule out other sleep disorders as well.


If you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, there are several treatment options available. Treatment will depend on the severity of your sleep apnea. Let’s explore the typical treatment options.

Lifestyle Changes and Conservative Therapy

For less severe cases of sleep apnea, making lifestyle changes can sometimes be enough to treat or greatly reduce symptoms.

  • Losing weight: If you’re obese or overweight, losing weight may be the best form of treatment. Though this is sometimes easier said than done, it can be an effective way to reduce episodes of sleep apnea and greatly decrease the prevalence of symptoms.
  • Sleeping on your side: For some people, sleep apnea symptoms only occur when they sleep on their backs. Sleeping on your side and using a wedge pillow can keep you in a comfortable side sleeping position.
  • Avoiding alcohol and sedative drugs: Alcohol and sedative drugs can cause muscles to relax during sleep and make breathing more difficult for people with sleep apnea. It may be recommended that you avoid alcohol and sedative drugs to reduce symptoms.
  • Treating congestion: If you have congestion that is obstructing your airways, you may need to use nasal sprays or decongestants to clear it up and make it easier to breathe.

Devices for Sleep Apnea

When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, you may need to use devices that are designed to help your sleep apnea. These are are some of the common devices you may use.

  • Positive airway pressure device: A positive airway pressure or PAP device is a common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. PAP machines require you to wear a mask over the nose or nose and mouth. An air blower will push air through your upper airway, preventing it from narrowing or closing during sleep. There are a few different types of PAP machines that may be recommended depending on your specific case of sleep apnea. 
  • CPAP: A continuous positive airway pressure device, or CPAP, is the most common PAP machine. This device will run at a single pressure throughout the night.
  • Auto CPAP: Auto CPAP devices detect the pressure needed by the person and adjust the pressure as necessary. 
  • BiPAP: A Bi-level PAP, or BiPAP, changes pressure depending on whether you’re inhaling or exhaling. BiPAPs are the next step if a CPAP machine isn’t resolving your symptoms.
  • ASV: An adaptive servo-ventilation, or ASV, device is used for central sleep apnea and provides a breath to the sleeping individual as needed.
  • Hypoglossal nerve stimulator: A hypoglossal nerve stimulator is a small implant that is placed under the skin. This implant is placed on the right chest and connected to the hypoglossal nerve in the neck with electrodes. When the individual breathes during sleep, the nerve is stimulated and the tongue moves out of the airway, opening it up. 
  • Mandibular advancement devices: Mandibular advancement devices are used to keep the tongue from blocking the throat. They can also be used to jut the lower jaw forward, keeping the airway open while you’re sleeping. This is a dental appliance that is placed in the mouth before going to bed.

Surgical Treatment

In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to treat sleep apnea. Surgery is usually the treatment of last resort for sleep apnea and will only be recommended or pursued after lifestyle changes and machine therapy has been attempted with little to no change. The following are some of the surgical procedures that might be recommended.

  • Tonsillectomy: A tonsillectomy will remove tonsillar tissue from the throat that is obstructing the airways.
  • Somnoplasty: Somnoplasty is minimally invasive and uses radio frequencies to reduce the soft tissue that may be blocking your airway.
  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty: This procedure removes tissue from the back of the throat and palate.
  • Nasal surgery: This surgery is used for those with sleep apnea issues that may arise from obstructed nasal passages.
  • Mandibular/maxillary advancement surgery: This is an invasive procedure that will only be recommended to individuals with cranial or facial abnormalities. This surgery makes facial corrections or removes obstructions from the throat that may be blocking airways.

When you’re being treated for sleep apnea or if you’re dealing with other sleep disorders, it’s common to face difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep. If you’re wanting to get your sleep schedule back on track, let Sleep Reset help.

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Sleep disorders like sleep apnea can cause sleep deprivation and a misaligned sleep schedule. Sleep Reset can help you get your sleep habits on the right track so you can just focus on your sleep apnea treatment. Sleep Reset is a program backed by science that uses proven sleep methods to help you fall asleep faster, sleep through the night, and wake up feeling refreshed. Sleep Reset is an all-natural sleep solution that doesn’t require pills or supplements, so there are no side effects or grogginess.

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