Doctors’ offices are filled with patients complaining about fatigue, exhaustion, and general lack of energy. Physicians often refer patients to a sleep lab after they ruled out physical causes for the symptoms. The patients often learn that they are suffering from a very common sleeping disorder, called sleep apnea. What is sleep apnea and what is sleep apnea caused by, are common questions from individuals diagnosed with this disorder. The associated health risks with this disorder are often underestimated or disregarded.


Sleep apnea is a serious disorder which causes the individual to stop breathing in their sleep.  Breathing can stop up to 30 times an hour, interrupting the sleep, and depriving the brain and the rest of the body of oxygen. Normal breathing is often resumed with a loud snort.  The repeated disruptions result in a poor quality of sleep and excessive tiredness of the individual during the day. These sleep apnea symptoms are often first noticed by a family member or a spouse. An estimated 12 million Americans suffer from this condition.

Most common is the obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. This type is caused by a blockage of the airway, either through a collapse of the airway, or by tissue located in the back of the throat. Air has to squeeze by this blockage. Shallow breathing and loud snoring can be the result of the blockage.Less common is the central sleep apnea. It often occurs in conjunction with obstructive sleep apnea, and is caused by the brain failing to send correct signals to the breathing muscles. The individual “skips” a couple of breaths until the correct signal is received again. Snoring is not typical with this type of disorder.

Untreated sleep apnea can have serious consequences to an individual’s health. High blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, diabetes, depression, and even depression are effects of this sleeping disorder. The lack of uninterrupted, restful sleep can affect an individual’s professional and private life. Untreated sleep apnea has been linked to job-related injuries and car accidents. Common risk factors for this disorder include being overweight, over the age of 40, male gender, family history, GERD, and a deviated septum causing a nasal obstruction.

Mild sleep apnea may be corrected through a special mouthpiece made by your dentist or orthodontist. This custom oral appliance adjusts the position of the lower jaw and tongue, preventing blockage of the airway. Moderate and severe cases of apnea may be treated through a CPAP machine. This machine provides continuous positive airway pressure, keeping the airway open. This treatment is most commonly used in adults.

Individuals suffering from persistent fatigue, lack of energy or exhaustion, may benefit from talking to their physicians about this common disorder. You can also find more information about sleep apnea and assorted sleeping disorders at Sleeping Resources.