Why do I snore and then stop breathing?

This question was asked in Neenah, Wisconsin on 03/13/2012.
As stated above, I snore and then stop breathing for a bit. What is this problem?

Doctors Answers (3)

Richard J. Schumann Jr., MD
Answered on: 3/14/2012

Snoring is one symptom of a group of disorders known as sleep disordered breathing. It occurs when the soft palate, tongue, tonsils, uvula or muscles in the back of the throat rub against one another and generate a vibrating sound during sleep. 20% of all adults are chronic snorers. An apnea is a term where there is suspension of external breathing. During apnea there is no movement of the muscular respiration and the volume of the lungs initially remains unchanged. Recurrent apneas during sleep greater than 5/hour define Obstructive Sleep Apnea, a condition with serious health consequences. You should be scheduled with a sleep specialist to assess the need for a sleep study to diagnose this.

Farhad Sigari, MD, FACS
Answered on: 3/14/2012

Airway obstruction. People snore because there is some obstruction of the air or airway that leads to disturbed airflow (kind of like turbulence) in the patient's airway. The site of this obstruction can be in the nose, palate, base of tongue, or throat. Most commonly the problem is a combination and usually includes the soft palate. The soft palate will then vibrate and cause the sound that people call snoring. When the this obstruction is bad enough it can even cause the cessation of airflow (patients stop breathing). If this happens the patient's blood oxygen level goes down enough that the patient's respiratory system sends a signal to the brain and the patient has to take a deeper breath or wake enough to disturb the sleep. If it happens more than 5x per hour this is considered sleep apnea. It can sometimes be as many as 60 times/hour in severe cases. A sleep study can help determine if the patient has sleep apnea vs. just snoring and the severity of sleep apnea.

Marjorie Yong, M.D.
Answered on: 3/14/2012

Well, people stop breathing when there is something obstructing their airway. Many times, it is because of a narrowing in the back of the throat when the tissue becomes enlarged - tissue being the tongue, tonsils, or the posterior pharynx.