Obstructive Sleep Apnea Explained

What Is Sleep Apnea?

When you have this condition, your breath can become very shallow or you may even stop breathing -- briefly -- while you sleep. It can happen many times a night in some people.

Obstructive sleep apnea happens when something partly or completely blocks your upper airway during shut-eye. That makes your diaphragm and chest muscles work harder to open the obstructed airway and pull air into the lungs. Breathing usually resumes with a loud gasp, snort, or body jerk. You may not sleep well, but you probably won't be aware that this is happening.

The condition can also reduce the flow of oxygen to vital organs and cause irregular heart rhythms.

Symptoms

The most common obstructive sleep apnea warning signs include:

If you share a bed with someone, they'll probably notice it before you do.

Symptoms in children may not be as obvious. They may include:

  • Bedwetting
  • Choking or drooling
  • Sweating a lot at night
  • Ribcage moves inward when they exhale
  • Learning and behavior disorders
  • Problems at school
  • Sluggishness or sleepiness (often misinterpreted as laziness in the classroom)
  • Snoring
  • Teeth grinding
  • Restlessness in bed
  • Pauses or absence of breathing
  • Unusual sleeping positions, such as sleeping on the hands and knees, or with the neck hyperextended

Talk to your doctor if you notice any of these problems. There are a lot of other possible causes for these symptoms as well.

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