The Basics of Sleep Apnea and How It Affects Overall Health

man snoring in bed

Sleep apnea is a common yet often overlooked sleep disorder characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep. These interruptions, known as apneas, significantly affect a person’s sleep quality and overall health. This blog will explore the basics of sleep apnea, its types, symptoms, and the broader implications it has on health.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes breathing to stop and start repeatedly during sleep. This condition leads to numerous awakenings throughout the night, though the individual may not be aware of these disruptions. The primary concern with sleep apnea is that it leads to reduced oxygen levels in the blood, which can have serious health consequences.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three main types of sleep apnea:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): 

The most common form, caused by a blockage of the airway when the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses during sleep.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): 

This form occurs when the brain fails to send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome: 

Also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, this condition occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

snoring and obstructive sleep apnea diagram

The symptoms of sleep apnea can be quite varied, making it sometimes difficult to diagnose. Common signs include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Episodes of stopped breathing during sleep, often reported by another person
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Morning headache
  • Insomnia or difficulty staying asleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Attention problems

Health Consequences of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea does more than just disrupt sleep; it can lead to a range of serious health issues, including:

  • Cardiovascular Problems: Due to low oxygen levels during sleep, there is an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and irregular heartbeats.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Sleep apnea is associated with insulin resistance and may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Metabolic Syndrome: This includes a cluster of conditions like high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood sugar, and increased waist circumference.
  • Liver Problems: People with sleep apnea are more likely to show signs of liver function impairment and liver scarring.
  • Mental Health Issues: The condition can contribute to complications such as depression and anxiety.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing sleep apnea usually involves an overnight sleep study that records various body functions during sleep. Treatments for sleep apnea vary depending on the severity of the disorder and the type of apnea. Common treatments include:

  • Lifestyle changes: such as weight loss, quitting smoking, and sleeping on one’s side.
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): A machine that uses a hose and mask or nosepiece to deliver constant and steady air pressure to help keep the airways open during sleep.
  • Oral appliances: Designed to keep the throat open by bringing the jaw forward, which can sometimes relieve snoring and mild obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Surgery: Options include procedures to remove tissue from the back of the throat, reposition the anatomical structure of the mouth, or implant nerve stimulators.


Sleep apnea is a serious condition that affects not only sleep quality but also overall health and quality of life. Recognizing the symptoms early and seeking appropriate treatment can mitigate the health risks associated with this disorder, leading to better health outcomes. If you suspect you or a loved one might be suffering from sleep apnea, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Lee A. Kleiman a doctor at Anne Arundel ENT

Dr. Lee A. Kleiman is a double board certified ENT & plastic surgeon at Anne Arundel ENT in Annapolis, Maryland known for his superior clinical outcomes in all Surgical and Non-Surgical ENT, specializing in Sinus Care, Voice and Swallowing, Rhinoplasty and Revision Rhinoplasty, and Facelifts and Non-surgical Aesthetic. He also continues to attend conferences internationally and nationally to keep abreast of the latest treatments and technology.