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What is Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea explained

Sleep apnea (also known as sleep apnoea) is a condition where the pharyngeal muscles in the back and sides of your throat relax so much when you sleep that your breathing is blocked for a few moments. When this happens, your brain notices a lack of oxygen in your blood, wakes you up just enough for your conscious mind to tense the muscles and take a breath. Then you fall into a deeper sleep again and the cycle continues – usually without you even noticing.

Early detection of your sleep apnea means that it can be treated before it damages your health, relationship or work performance.


There are 3 types of sleep apnea

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – the most common – where the tissue of the throat closes over the airway, causing you to stop breathing
  • Central sleep apnea – which is not as common as OSA – where the brain or nerves fail to signal the muscles that control breathing to tell them that you need to take a breath
  • Combination or complex sleep apnea  – where obstructive and central sleep apnea occur together


Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common type, caused by an obstruction of the airways in the throat region1,2 and happens when the muscles relax during sleep. 

Airflow is obstructed or reduced, causing vibrations that result in snoring during sleep and a drop in oxygen. The brain senses this lack of oxygen and responds with sudden, unconscious "micro-awakenings" that don't last long, called resuscitative snoring to restore breathing. 

The repeated occurrence of frequent interruptions of breathing during the night breaks the sleep pattern, which ceases to be a restorative activity.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is commonly associated with loud snoring, but not all snorers suffer from apnea. For 75% of people with sleep apnea, the first sign is when your bed partner complains about it,4 or when he/she notices that you are panting or breathing abnormally, and therefore also passes to have an agitated sleep. This lack of sleep has a significant impact on your overall quality of life.
During the day, another common sign is excessive sleepiness, such as feeling tired in the morning after a full night's sleep or wanting to take a nap during the day.5
  • Waking up with a headache

  • Lack of concentration

  • Lack of energy

  • Frequent nightmares

  • Feeling suffocated while sleeping

  • Irritability

  • Loss of libido

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS) is a serious and very common sleep disorder that significantly affects quality of life and health.

Health risks and consequences of sleep apnea

If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause several complications, mainly cardiovascular 10 and metabolic 11 in the long term.

Who gets sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea occurs in all age groups – including newborn babies – but is most common in people over 50 years old and people who are overweight3. It is also more common in men than women4. Other physical characteristics that may predispose you to sleep apnea are large tonsils, a small nose, some thyroid conditions and nasal congestion. Also, drinking alcohol or taking sedatives or sleeping pills before sleep can relax your throat and make your sleep apnea worse.

Why is sleep apnea bad for me?

People who suffer from sleep apnea often suffer from other conditions associated with, and possibly caused by, sleep apnea.

By treating your sleep apnea, you may also be able to reduce the severity of, or risk of suffering from:7,8,9,10

  • Poor cardiovascular health
  • Type 2 diabetes12, 13, 14
  • Hypertension
  • Stroke

Sleep Apnea: Am I at Risk?

We may all have suffered from snoring, feel tired during the day… But could this be sleep apnea? 

It affects people of all ages, and 1% to 6% of the adult population worldwide 17 .

Some factors predispose people to develop this chronic and progressive disease: being male, being overweight, being over 50 years of age, having a wide neck, a thin nose, a small jaw, and having a family history of sleep apnea. sleep.18

We can help you assess your risk of suffering from sleep apnea. Visit our sleep solutions website to screen youself and download our sleep study referral.

Remember that the result of this test is not a diagnosis. Bring your sleep study referral and share the result with your doctor.

Do you snore?

Loud and frequent snoring is one of the indicators of sleep apnea. But not all snorers have sleep apnea. Plus, sleep apnea is more than snoring!

We can help you assess your risk of suffering from sleep apnea.

> Visit our Sleep Solutions website to SCREEN YOURSELF


1. The World Health Organization. Chronic respiratory diseases viewed 21/05/2015

2 . Rules for Scoring Respiratory Events in Sleep: Update of the 2007 AASM Manual for Scoring of Sleep and Associated Events – Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Vol. 8, No. 5, 2012

4 .Sleep breathing disorders – European Respiratory Society White Book (chapter 23) 

5 .Obstructive sleep apnoea, Sleep Health Foundation, 2011

6. American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM)- Sleep disorders-Sleep Apnea, Consulted 12/08 /2021@

7.Obstructive sleep apnoea, Sleep Health Foundation, 2011

8 .Sleep breathing disorders – European Respiratory Society White Book (chapter

9. Terán-Santos J., Jiménez-Gómez A., & Cordero-Guevara, J. (1999). between sleep apnea and the risk of traffic accidents. N Engl J Med., 340(11), 881-3.

10. Somers VK et al. Circulation. 2008 Sep 2;118(10):1080-111

11 .Reutrakul S et al. Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Diabetes: A State of the Art Review. Chest. 2017 Nov;152(5):1070-1086

12 .Garbarino S et al. Association of Anxiety and Depression in Obstructive Sleep Apnea Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Behav Sleep Med. 2020 Jan-Feb;18(1):35-57

13.Bonsignore MR et al. Obstructive sleep apnea and comorbidities: a dangerous liaison. Multidiscip Respir Med. 2019 Feb 14;14:8

14 .American Heart Association. Heart and stroke encyclopedia. Coronary thrombosis

15 .American Heart Association. Heart and stroke encyclopedia. Heart failure

16. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea – A guide for GPs – British Lung Foundation (NHS)

17. Benjafield Adam V et al. Estimation of the global prevalence and burden of obstructive sleep apnoea: a literature-based analysis. Lancet Respir Med. 2019;7(8):687-698. doi:10.1016/S2213-2600(19)30198-5

18.Tufik S, Santos-Silva R, Taddei JA, Bittencourt LRA. Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome n the Sao Paulo epidemiologic sleep study. Sleep Med 2010;11:441–6.

19 . Heinzer R, Vat S, Marques-Vidal P, et al. Prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing in the general population: the HypnoLaus study. Lancet Resp Med 2015;3:310–8.

20. Sleep breathing disorders – European Respiratory Society WhiteBook (chapter 23)