Why some people stop breathing at night

Credit: Unsplash+

Sleep apnea is a common but serious disorder where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.

This condition can lead to daily fatigue, serious health complications, and decreased quality of life.

Understanding what causes sleep apnea is essential for prevention and treatment. This review breaks down the causes of sleep apnea in simple terms, based on the latest research.

Sleep apnea comes in two main forms: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the more common type, and central sleep apnea. OSA occurs when the muscles in the throat relax excessively during sleep, causing a blockage of the airway.

Central sleep apnea is different because it involves the brain failing to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

Obesity and Physical Structure: Obesity is one of the leading causes of obstructive sleep apnea. Excess body weight contributes to fat deposits around the upper airway, which can obstruct breathing during sleep.

However, not everyone with OSA is overweight, and not all overweight individuals have sleep apnea. The structure of one’s neck, jaw, and airways can also predispose them to OSA.

For instance, a thicker neck may narrow the airway, and certain jaw structures can position the tongue and soft palate in ways that block airflow during sleep.

Age and Gender: Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, including children, but it is more common in older adults and males.

Research shows that hormonal differences and fat distribution patterns may explain why men are more prone to OSA than women, although the risk for women increases after menopause.

Family History and Genetics: Genetics play a role in sleep apnea. If family members have sleep apnea, your risk of developing the condition increases.

This genetic predisposition could be related to body structure traits that affect the airways, inherited obesity tendencies, or other inherited traits that influence breathing control.

Use of Alcohol and Sedatives: Alcohol and certain medications, such as sedatives or muscle relaxants, can exacerbate sleep apnea. These substances relax the muscles in the throat, which can worsen airway obstruction during sleep.

Smoking: Smoking can increase the risk of developing sleep apnea by inflaming and retaining fluid in the airway, which makes it more likely to collapse during sleep. Studies show that smokers are more likely to have OSA than non-smokers.

Nasal Congestion: Difficulty breathing through the nose—whether due to anatomical reasons or allergies—can contribute to the development of sleep apnea. When nasal passages are blocked, it’s harder to breathe effectively through the nose, increasing the likelihood of airway collapse.

Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions are associated with an increased risk of sleep apnea. For example, congestive heart failure and type 2 diabetes are linked with sleep apnea, as are hormonal disorders like hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Additionally, conditions that cause enlargement of the tonsils or adenoids can block the airway, particularly in children.

Treating and managing sleep apnea often involves lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, and avoiding alcohol before bedtime.

Medical treatments include the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices, which keep the airway open by providing a constant stream of air through a mask, and dental appliances that adjust the position of the jaw and tongue.

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove tissue blocking the airway or to correct structural issues.

Understanding the causes of sleep apnea is the first step in managing this sleep disorder. With proper treatment, individuals can reduce their symptoms and significantly improve their sleep quality and overall health.

If you care about wellness, please read studies about how ultra-processed foods and red meat influence your longevity, and why seafood may boost healthy aging.

For more information about wellness, please see recent studies that olive oil may help you live longer, and vitamin D could help lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.

Copyright © 2024 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.