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Conditions InDepth: Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is when breathing stops for a brief time during sleep. It can last for more than 10 seconds. It may happen up to 30 times per hour.

Normal Upper Airway During Sleep

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Lack of sleep affects a person's focus. It may also result in:

The types of apnea are:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

This is when the tissues of the throat relax too much and cave in on each other. This causes a brief block in air flow that may be partial or complete. A person who is overweight may have too much tissue. A deviated septum, nasal polyps, large tonsils, or an elongated soft palate and uvula can also cause the block.

Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are the most common reason for this problem in children.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

This is when the lower brain stem does not send signals to the muscles that control breathing. This can happen when a person has health problems of the brain and central nervous system. Some examples are polio, encephalitis, stroke, and brain tumors. Being born too early is the most common reason for this problem in children.

Mixed Sleep Apnea

This is a mix of both apnea types.


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Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD  Last Updated: 4/6/2021