Loading icon
Press enter or spacebar to select a desired language.
Health Information Center

Sleep Apnea

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:


Sleep Apnea

(Obstructive Apnea; Central Apnea; Mixed Apnea)


Sleep apnea is a disorder with pauses in breathing. It happens during sleep. These pauses can last for 10 to 30 seconds at a time. It interrupts sleep.

There are three types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive
  • Central
  • Mixed


Causes depend on the type of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive—Soft tissue in the throat relaxes and blocks the airway
  • Central—Signals from the brain slow or pause breathing
  • Mixed—Both soft tissue and brain signals cause problems
Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

http://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=25642564si1573.jpgObstructive Apnea: Blocked Upper AirwayNULLjpgObstructive Apnea: Blocked Upper AirwayNULL\\filer01\Intellect\images\si1573.jpgCopyright © 2002 Nucleus Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.37NULL2002-10-012553912564_11549Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Sleep apnea is more common in men and adults over 40 years. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Being obese
  • Having medical conditions, such as:
    • Heart and blood vessel problems
    • Problems with the kidneys or lungs
    • Endocrine problems, such as diabetes and hypothyroidism
  • Having a large neck
  • Family history of apnea
  • Using certain medicines for pain or sleep
  • Having problems in the nose or throat such as:
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use


People with sleep apnea may snore loudly. They may wake often during sleep.

Other problems may be:

  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling tired even after sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Problems with focus or memory
  • Irritability


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. A sleep study may be done at home or in a clinic. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.


The goal of treatment is to improve sleep and prevent health problems. Treatment depends on the cause and type of sleep apnea. Options may be:

  • Lifestyle changes, such as keeping a healthy weight through diet and exercise, not smoking, and changing sleeping positions
  • Wearing a small device in the mouth to keep the airway open
  • Using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)—a machine that gently blows air into the airway to keep it open
  • Changing medicines or trying new ones to ease symptoms
  • Having surgery to shrink or remove extra tissue that is blocking the airway


Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise may lower the risk of this problem.





  • Central sleep apnea. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/central-sleep-apnea.
  • Marin-Oto, M., Vicente, E.E., et al. Long term management of obstructive sleep apnea and its comorbidities. Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine, 2019; 14 (21).
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/obstructive-sleep-apnea-osa-in-adults.
  • Sleep apnea. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-apnea.
  • 12/20/2016 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com/condition/central-sleep-apnea: Costanzo, M.R., Ponikowski, P., et al. Transvenous neurostimulation for central sleep apnoea: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet, 2016; 388 (10048): 974-982.


  • Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.