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What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea explained in 1 min

Sleep Apnea is an involuntary pause in breathing during sleep for at least 10 seconds. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common type of Sleep Apnea, caused by an obstruction of the airways in the throat region (1,2) , it happens when the muscles relax during sleep.

Airflow is obstructed or reduced, causing vibrations that result in snoring during sleep and a drop in oxygen levels. The brain senses this lack of oxygen and responds with sudden, unconscious, short-lived “micro-awakenings” called resuscitative snoring to restore breathing. The repeated occurrence of frequent interruptions of breathing during the night breaks the sleep pattern, which ceases to be a restorative activity.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a serious and very common sleep disorder that significantly affects quality of life and health.

Know the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is commonly associated with loud snoring, but not all snorers suffer from apnea (4) . For 75% of people with sleep apnea, the first sign is when your bed partner complains about it (4) , or when he/she notices that you are panting or breathing abnormally and, therefore, also start to having restless sleep (5) . This lack of sleep has a significant impact on your overall quality of life.

During the day, another common sign is excessive sleepiness, such as feeling tired in the morning after a full night's sleep or wanting to take a nap during the day. (5)

  • Waking up with a headache

  • Lack of concentration

  • Lack of energy

  • Irritability

  • Frequent nightmares

  • Feeling suffocated while sleeping

  • Repeated visits to the bathroom at night

  • Loss of libido

The health risks of sleep apnea

If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause several complications, mainly cardiovascular (10) and metabolic (11) in the long term.

Obstructive sleep apnea and your heart

The combination of sleep disturbances and lack of oxygen can lead to the development or worsening of cardiovascular problems, such as (10, 11, 13) :

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure);
  • Arrhythmia (heart rhythm disorder);
  • Cerebrovascular accident (stroke or stroke);
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack); (14)
  • Heart failure (when the heart no longer pumps enough blood to meet the body's needs) (15) .

Obesity, diabetes and sleep apnea: a close link

Research confirms that approximately 15-30% of people with apnea also have type 2 diabetes (11).

Sleep fragmentation also has a negative impact on eating habits, as it increases the feeling of hunger and reduces satiety (11) . Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and an aggravating factor for obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (11) . 

On average, depression and anxiety affect 35% and 32% of patients with the disease, respectively (12) . It is important to address each of these factors and make regular appointments with a doctor.

How do I know if I have Sleep Apnea?

We can all suffer from snoring, feel tired during the day… But is snoring a symptom of sleep apnea?

The disease affects people of all ages, and 1% to 6% of the adult population worldwide (17) .

Some factors predispose people to develop this chronic and evolutionary disease: being male, being overweight, being over 50 years of age, having a wide neck, a thin nose, a small jaw, and having a family history of sleep apnea(18) .

Do you snore?

Loud and frequent snoring is one of the indicators of sleep apnea. However, not all snorers have the condition. Not sure if you suffer from sleep apnea?

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1The World Health Organization. Chronic respiratory diseases viewed 05/21/2015

2. Rules for Scoring Respiratory Events in Sleep: Update of the 2007 AASM Manual for Scoring of Sleep and Associated Events – Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Vol. 8, No. 5, 2012

4.Sleep breathing disorders – European Respiratory Society White Book (chapter 23) 

5.Obstructive sleep apnoea, Sleep Health Foundation, 2011

6.American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM)- Sleep disorders-Sleep Apnea, Consulted 08/12/2021@

7.Obstructive sleep apnoea, Sleep Health Foundation, 2011

8.Sleep breathing disorders – European Respiratory Society White Book (chapter

9.Terán-Santos J., Jiménez-Gómez A., & Cordero-Guevara, J. (1999). The association between sleep apnea and the risk of traffic accidents. N Engl J Med., 340(11), 881-3.

10.Somers VK et al. Circulation. 2008 Sep 2;118(10):1080-111

11.Reutrakul S et al. Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Diabetes: A State of the Art Review. Chest. 2017 Nov;152(5):1070-1086

12.Garbarino S et al. Association of Anxiety and Depression in Obstructive Sleep Apnea Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Behav Sleep Med. 2020 Jan-Feb;18(1):35-57

13.Bonsignore MR et al. Obstructive sleep apnea and comorbidities: a dangerous liaison. Multidiscip Respir Med. 2019 Feb 14;14:8

14.American Heart Association. Heart and stroke encyclopedia. Coronary thrombosis

15.American Heart Association. Heart and stroke encyclopedia. Heart failure

16Obstructive Sleep Apnoea – A guide for GPs – British Lung Foundation (NHS)

17Benjafield Adam V et al. Estimation of the global prevalence and burden of obstructive sleep apnoea: a literature-based analysis. Lancet Respir Med. 2019;7(8):687-698. doi:10.1016/S2213-2600(19)30198-5

18. Tufik S, Santos-Silva R, Taddei JA, Bittencourt LRA. Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome n the Sao Paulo epidemiologic sleep study. Sleep Med 2010;11:441–6.

19. Heinzer R, Vat S, Marques-Vidal P, et al. Prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing inthe general population: the HypnoLaus study. Lancet Resp Med 2015;3:310–8.

20Sleep breathing disorders – European Respiratory Society WhiteBook (chapter 23)