What is Sleep Apnea?

It’s a chronic medical disorder. It causes a person to stop breathing for periods of time during sleep.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three main types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea– Everyone’s muscles—including those in the throat—relax during sleep. This narrows the airway. But in people with obstructive sleep apnea, the airway narrows so much that it closes. The person keeps trying to breathe, but air can’t get through. This is the most common type of sleep apnea.
  • Central Sleep Apnea– the airway stays open. But the brain stops telling them muscles that control breathing to work. This is the rarest type of sleep apnea.
  • Mixed Sleep Apnea– This type involves both a blocked airway and a brain signal problem, For example, a person may have periods of central sleep apnea mixed with periods of obstructive sleep apnea.


The most common signs and symptoms of sleep apneas include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Loud snoring
  • Pauses in breathing during sleep witnessed by another person
  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath, which more likely indicates central sleep apnea
  • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Morning headache
  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood disorders (depression)

When To See A Doctor

Consult a medical professional if you experience, or if your partner notices, the following:

  • Snoring loud enough to disturb the sleep of others or yourself
  • Shortness of breath that awakens you from sleep
  • Intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness, which may cause you to fall asleep while you're working, watching television or even driving

Ask your doctor about any sleep problem that leaves you chronically fatigued, sleepy and irritable. Excessive daytime drowsiness (hypersomnia) may be due to other disorders, such as narcolepsy.

Anyone Can Have Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can affect anyone. Even children can have sleep apnea. But certain factors put you at increased risk:

  • Excess weight
  • Neck circumference
  • A narrow airway
  • Being male
  • Being older
  • Family history
  • Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers
  • Smoking
  • Nasal congestion
  • Heart disorders
  • Stroke or brain tumor

» Take This Sleep Quiz To See If You Might Have Sleep Apnea

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

Your doctor may make an evaluation based on your signs and symptoms or may refer you to a sleep disorder center, like the Torrance Memorial Sleep Disorder Center. There, a sleep specialist can help you decide on your need for further evaluation. Such an evaluation often involves overnight monitoring of your breathing and other body functions during sleep. Another option is home sleep testing, it's often easier for you and less expensive.

If you have obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose and throat doctor (otolaryngologist) to rule out any blockage in your nose or throat. An evaluation by a heart doctor (cardiologist) or a doctor who specializes in the nervous system (neurologist) may be necessary to look for causes of central sleep apnea.

How is Sleep Apnea Treated?

For milder cases of sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend only lifestyle changes, such as: avoid sleeping on your back, lose weight, quit smoking or avoid drugs that cause drowsiness.

If these measures don't improve your signs and symptoms or if your apnea is moderate to severe, a number of other treatments are available. Certain devices can help open up a blocked airway, like a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). In other cases, oral appliance, surgery may be necessary or medication.

You Can Sleep Better!

Talk to your health care provider if you think you many have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. If you have additional questions or need information please call Torrance Memorial Sleep Disorders Center to assist you, 310-517-4617.