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

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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 your 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 maintaining 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.


American Sleep Apnea Association
National Sleep Foundation


Canadian Sleep Society
The Lung Association


Central sleep apnea. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed January 7, 2021.
Marin-Oto M, Vicente EE, et al. Long term management of obstructive sleep apnea and its comorbidities. Multidiscip Respir Med 14, 21 (2019).
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed January 7, 2021.
Sleep apnea. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) website. Available at: Accessed January 7, 2021.
12/20/2016 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance Costanzo MR, Ponikowski P, et al. Transvenous neurostimulation for central sleep apnoea: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2016;388(10048):974-982.
Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 1/7/2021