What Causes Sleep Apnea?

Do you frequently feel lethargic even after sleeping the whole night? Do your spouse or flat mates complain about your excessive snores? Do you have a morning headache or a dry mouth?

If this is the case, you may have sleep apnea, a severe sleep disorder. The occasional shortage of oxygen you’re getting requires medical treatment to avoid severe problems in the body, including cardiac troubles.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that results in interrupted breathing during sleep throughout the night. Obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea are the two most common forms of sleep apnea. Knowing more about the causes of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea may help you avoid developing this terrible sleep disease, allowing you to stay active and healthy for many years.

The interruptions are usually so brief that most people aren’t aware they’ve been awakened during the night; they can leave people tired and sleepy all day and put them at risk of adverse health outcomes. And it can be attributed to lack of sleep and low blood oxygen levels throughout sleep, like mood swings, memory or concentration problems, anxiousness, and depression.

Anyone, even children, is susceptible to the disease. However, it is more common in those who are elderly, heavier, and have a long neck. These are caused by anatomical alterations that make a person more vulnerable to acquiring intermittent airway complications.

What are the most frequent causes of sleep apnea, and how do you acquire it? The following are some prevalent sleep apnea risk factors.

The Major Causes of Sleep Apnea

The Major Causes of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea are the two most common kinds of sleep apnea. Another rare kind of sleep apnea is complex sleep apnea syndrome.

When your breathing mechanisms get obstructed, you develop obstructive sleep apnea or OSA. When your brain fails to deliver the necessary signals to your muscles, you get central sleep apnea or CSA. As a result, you may momentarily stop breathing or breathe so weakly that you may not obtain enough oxygen.

These diseases have different causes and risk factors. However, regardless of whatever kind you have, you should get medical advice from a qualified physician to help you manage the symptoms.

1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is more prevalent than central sleep apnea, and It occurs when the throat muscles relax and restrict the airway during sleeping. This process is responsible for obstructive sleep apnea’s thunderous snoring, breathing difficulties, and other symptoms. Obstructive sleep apnea affects 22 percent of males and 17 percent of women globally.

Obesity is the most prevalent cause and a risk factor for this type of sleep apnea. Fat pockets occur all-around the upper airway as a consequence of the increased weight, obstructing breathing.

Other major causes of obstructive sleep apnea, in addition to obesity, include:

  • Growing older
  • Being male
  • Use of sedatives and alcohol on a regular basis
  • Smoking
  • Nasal obstruction
  • Sleep apnea in the family
  • Certain physical characteristics, such as a wide neck circumference, a restricted throat or airway, or big tonsils

Enlarged tonsils or adenoids and dental issues such as a significant overbite are common causes of obstructive sleep apnea in kids. A tumor or growth in the airway and congenital abnormalities, including Down syndrome and Pierre-Robin syndrome, are less prevalent causes.

For example, the tongue, tonsil, and adenoids enlarge with Down syndrome, reducing muscular strength in the airway.

Pierre-Robin syndrome is characterized by a narrow lower jaw and a proclivity for the tongue to roll up and fall to the base of the neck. Although pediatric obesity has been associated with obstructive sleep apnea, it is far less prevalent than adult obesity.

Obstructive sleep apnea, irrespective of age, can result in major problems such as heart disease, mishaps, and early death. So anybody who exhibits clinical manifestations of obstructive sleep apnea, such as loud snoring and frequent overnight awakenings followed by severe daytime lethargy, should seek medical attention.

Some of these risk factors may be controlled, while others are out of our control. For example, lowering weight, stopping smoking, and limiting alcohol and sedative usage can all help to treat sleep apnea. Male gender, age, and a genetic predisposition to sleep apnea, on the other hand, are uncontrolled and non-modifiable triggers.

2. Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea develops when the brain fails to give information to the muscles that govern breathing. This results in breathlessness and makes falling and staying asleep difficult. Although less frequent than obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea has lots of similar causes and risk factors.

The central nervous system is directly impacted by this sleep disorder, which is why it is termed central sleep apnea.

The following are common causes of central sleep apnea:

  • Aging
  • Being male
  • Regular use of Methadone and other opioids.
  • Heart conditions, such as congestive heart failure
  • Stroke

3. Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome

People with combined obstructive and central sleep apnea have complex sleep apnea syndrome, also referred to as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea. This is the least prevalent of the three types of sleep apnea. However, this is a relatively new illness, and experts strive to figure out what causes this sort of apnea.

The following are the most common causes:

  • Unhealthy weight
  • Being male
  • Aging
  • Congestive heart failure

Demographics of Sleep Apnea

Demographics of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is expected to affect 4% to 9% of middle-aged individuals, yet the disorder is frequently misdiagnosed and untreated. At least 10% of adults over the age of 65 are thought to have the disease. The brain’s capacity to maintain upper airway throat muscles firm during sleep deteriorates with age, increasing the risk of the airway narrowing or collapsing.

Men are up to four times more likely than women to have obstructive sleep apnea, while women are more prone to have it after pregnancy and menopause. However, after women achieve menopause, the gender disparity narrows among the elderly.

Obstructive sleep apnea is much less common in postmenopausal women who take hormone replacement treatment than in those who do not, indicating that progesterone and/or estrogen may be protective. On the other hand, hormone replacement treatment is not recommended for this illness since it might have unintended consequences.

Factors That Increase Your Chances of Sleep Apnea

Factors That Increase Your Chances of Sleep Apnea

While anybody can acquire sleep apnea, several variables can raise your chance of developing it or indicate that you may already have it.

1. Obesity


Obesity, as previously mentioned, is a primary known risk factor for sleep apnea development. It causes an enlargement of the neck, fat deposition at the soft palate, and a reduction in lung capacity while sleeping.

Sleep apnea can sometimes be fully resolved. It may be lessened with weight loss. Losing 10% of one’s total body weight is seen to be beneficial in general.

2. Large Adenoids or Tonsils

Large Adenoids or Tonsils

Some people have big tonsils or adenoids and narrower airways, which can cause breathing difficulty when sleeping. However, the most prevalent cause of obstructive sleep apnea in kids is large adenoids and tonsils.

3. Jaw Misalignment

Jaw Misalignment

An imbalance in face anatomy caused by certain illnesses or hereditary causes might cause the tongue to rest further back in the mouth, resulting in sleep apnea.

For example, obstructive sleep apnea can be caused by a narrower lower jaw than the upper jaw or a palate formed in a specific manner and falls more easily during sleep.

4. Consumption of Alcohol

Consumption of Alcohol

Alcohol use close to bedtime may impair sleep breathing. It’s a well-known muscle relaxant that can also relax airway muscles. In addition, wine contains histamines, which can cause nasal congestion.

Consuming alcohol can exacerbate snoring and sleep apnea. To limit these dangers, it is advisable to avoid alcohol many hours before bedtime.

5. Family History

Family History

If you have a family history of obstructive sleep apnea, you may be more susceptible to the disorder. In addition, your airway shape and cranial facial traits can be acquired from your family, and these factors can all influence whether or not you get sleep apnea.

6. Hypertension


People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea, as hypertension can result from unmanaged sleep apnea. When you don’t breathe properly, your body’s oxygen levels drop, and your brain transmits an adrenaline response to the body, telling it to tighten blood vessels to boost oxygen flow to the heart and brain.

This rush in adrenaline can last throughout the day, even if the individual is breathing regularly, potentially leading to hypertension.

7. Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D Deficiency

It’s probable that a lack of vitamin D causes sleep disturbances and increases the risk of developing sleep apnea. Therefore, obtaining enough sunshine exposure may be beneficial to avoid deficiency during the winter months, and taking foodstuffs with vitamin D or supplements may be beneficial.

8. Asthma


Asthma and the risk of obstructive sleep apnea have been linked in studies. Asthmatics are more prone to develop sleep apnea, according to research. Additionally, symptoms of one ailment often exacerbate those of the other.

The link between the two requirements is reciprocal. Asthma can aggravate sleep apnea and vice versa.

9. Smoking


Smoking affects the mucosa lining the airway, which can exacerbate snoring and lead to sleep apnea in vulnerable people. Nicotine may have additional sleep-disrupting effects.

Smoking discontinuation may have beneficial impacts and is recommended to avoid long-term health problems.

10. Heart Failure

Heart Failure

According to a previous study, persons with heart failure had both obstructive and central sleep apnea. Heart failure can induce salt and water retention, and physicians believe that the extra fluid could reach the lungs at night, causing obstructive apnea.

Heart failure is also connected to issues with respiration, which might be the reason for central sleep apnea.

11. Medications


Benzodiazepines and opioids may dull the neurological connection that occurs between the brain and the body to control breathing. As a result, these medications decrease airway muscle activity, which can lead to sleep apnea.

The Bottom Line

Consult a board-certified sleep specialist if you feel you’re suffering from sleep apnea symptoms. It will be necessary to evaluate symptoms, have an upper airway physical examination, and schedule diagnostic tests. If sleep apnea is not managed, it can have severe consequences, including early death.

If sleep apnea is discovered, therapies like CPAP, an oral appliance, posture therapy, or losing weight may be highly beneficial. In addition, in some situations, lifestyle changes may lessen the severity of the condition and resolve it in the long run.

Sarah Wagner

I'm Sarah Wagner, and I founded Sweet Island Dreams in 2022. It's a blog dedicated to helping people mental vacation virtually anytime they want. By providing information about the best sleep of your life, I help people drift away to paradise without ever having to leave their bed!

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