Sleep apnea is when breathing repeatedly stops as a result of throat muscles relaxing and closing off the airway during sleep. When breathing is interrupted, the brain senses a drop in blood oxygenation and briefly rouses a person from sleep to reopen the airway. Most people are unaware of this awakening because it is so brief.
The most common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include the following:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring
- Observed episodes of breathing cessation during sleep
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath
- Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Morning headache
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
Sleep apnea occurs 2-3 times more often in older adults and is twice as common in men. Excessive weight, smoking, and the use of alcohol or sedatives also increase the risk of sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea may be conservatively treated with a dental snoring appliance, which opens the airway by holding the lower jaw in a forward position during sleep. More severe cases of sleep apnea may require the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or surgery to remove tissue from the nose, mouth, or throat.