What Is Sleep Apnea?

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Difficulties getting a good night's sleep can be caused by sleep apnea, a condition which causes people to involuntarily stop breathing for a few moments during sleep. It is often associated with being overweight.

When someone has sleep apnea, the throat muscles and tongue that relax during sleep actually cause the airway to become blocked. Breathing then becomes difficult and/or noisy, which results in unsettled sleep and numerous other side effects. Breathing can be interrupted up to 30 times an hour, usually without the affected person even knowing.

As well as disturbed sleep, other symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Loud snoring
  • Morning headaches
  • Recent weight gain
  • Feeling unrested upon waking up
  • Limited attention span
  • Memory loss
  • Poor judgment
  • Lethargy

Sleep apnea doesn't just give you a bad night's sleep now and then – it causes poor sleep almost all of the time and can significantly affect your health.

Sleep apnea and obesity

Obesity and sleep apnea are often connected. People who are overweight often carry an excess amount of tissue in the airway, causing it to be narrowed. The narrower airway combined with the tongue and throat muscle relaxation during sleep can often lead to apnea episodes.

The good news is that reducing your weight may dramatically improve sleep apnea. Studies have shown that when an overweight person loses 10 percent of their body weight, their sleep apnea episodes are reduced by up to 50 percent. Now that's motivation for your weight-control goals!

If you think you might suffer from sleep apnea, it's important to see your health provider for a sleep test and treatment.