Causes of Sleep Apnea

There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea, according to the National Library of Medicine, is a condition in which airways are blocked, leading to irregular pauses in breathing. On the other hand, central sleep apnea (CSA) is a condition caused by a periodic breathing disorder or Cheyne-Stokes respiration; CSA is a result of the body’s abnormal respiration.


A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine focused on the possible causes of obstructive sleep apnea. The study suggests that race may be a factor in the occurrence of obstructive sleep apnea. Researchers found out that sleep apnea is more common among black men belonging to certain age groups. However, the researchers admit that they still do not know the reasons behind the correlation.


Dr. Juan Vargas, chief of family medicine at Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Medical Center, said that aside from race, people who smoke, consume high amounts of alcohol, and have family histories of the sleep disorder are also at risk of obstructive sleep apnea. Also, people who have large tonsils may suffer from the sleeping disorder.


However, in most cases, obesity is the main cause of obstructive sleep apnea, Dr. Vargas said. In fact, according to L.A. County Department of Public Health, one out of three, or 33%, of its adult population are obese. Obese people are at risk of obstructive sleep apnea because their airways become blocked or narrower.


In Dr. Vargas’ clinic, one or two out of his 100 patients suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. His statistics are more or less the same as the National Sleep Foundation’s estimate that 2% to 3% of the population has sleep apnea.   


Socioeconomic characteristics play a large role in the incidence of sleep apnea because some people do not have the resources to choose the healthiest options. For example, people have lesser choices when it comes to healthy foods, and they have to keep at least two jobs to make ends meet. Poor choices in diet can lead to obesity, while too much stress can cause sleep disorders.


People with sleep apnea start snoring loudly even after a few minutes of falling asleep. Snoring then suddenly stops, which means breathing has stopped. The person then tries to breathe again by gasping and snorting. Irregular breathing patterns while asleep can cause tiredness even after a whole night’s sleep. Often, people feel sleepy at work and experience headaches. They are also prone to car accidents.


Aside from feeling tired, sleep apnea can affect one’s relationship. Snoring at night can also affect a partner’s sleep quality. Sleep apnea can also cause irritability and affect one’s mood.


Sleep apnea can now be corrected. One of the most effective ways to correct it is weight loss. Also, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, and sleeping on one’s sides can help alleviate the symptoms of sleep apnea. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is also very helpful because it can greatly improve and regularize breathing during sleep. Surgery may also be an option to widen one’s airways.