What Are the Symptoms and Causes Behind Sleep Apnea? Find Out Here

snoring couple

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your breathing levels fluctuate. You can suddenly stop and start breathing multiple times during your sleep.

There are different kinds of apnea apart from obstructive sleep apnea that include central sleep apnea and complex sleep apnea syndrome. However, obstructive sleep apnea tends to occur more often.

You can find out more about the symptoms and causes of sleep apnea by reading through this article.


You can go through the following symptoms of sleep apnea to determine if you or someone you know has it.

  • Loud and frequent snoring
  • Fatigue and drowsiness throughout the day
  • Reported episodes of breathing interruptions during your sleep (noticed either by you or someone else)
  • Sore throat
  • Dry mouth after waking up
  • Constant headaches
  • Sexual dysfunction or lower libido
  • Gasping suddenly and waking up
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of focus and concentration
  • Irritability, anxiety and/or depression
  • Heartburn
  • Forgetting
  • Sweating at night

In case you have these symptoms, you should visit your doctor to determine the next steps. Even if they are not too severe, it might be better to get a professional opinion.


There are several causes that can explain why sleep apnea occurs. Let’s take a look at what some of these are in detail.

Muscle Relaxation

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in your throat end up relaxing more than usual. This can interfere with the normal breathing process since the airway becomes narrow, reducing the oxygen level in the blood.

When this happens, your brain has the ability to notice the difference, which is why it wakes you up from your sleep for a few seconds so that you can get your breathing back in control.

This can keep occurring throughout the night. The frequency can vary and can even go up to 100 times each night. The brief waking up durations could also lead to you gasping or choking for breath.

Old Age

Old age is a likely cause of sleep apnea. The older you grow, the more likely you are to develop this sleep disorder. This is because your bodily functions start becoming slower as well with age.

This is, of course, not enough to cause sleep apnea but can certainly increase the intensity of it.


Obesity is another major cause of sleep apnea that could make the disorder much riskier than it usually is. This is because an excessive increase in weight can cause the airway to narrow even more. In fact, even a moderate weight gain can increase the risk of breathing issues during your sleep.

This was further portrayed by a study that was conducted on 690 participants who were evaluated two times in four years. Through this study, it became clear that weight can be an important factor.

This is also why weight reduction or control is one of the recommended treatments for sleep apnea in certain cases.

Narrow Airway

If you happen to have a narrower airway than usual, then it is likely that this might lead to sleep apnea. This could either be genetic or it can develop on its own. In children, the latter tends to happen when the tonsils become bigger and take up more space in the airway.


Biological sex can also be another factor that could increase the chances of sleep apnea in a person. Being biologically male is more likely to increase the risk of developing sleep apnea.

This risk is lower in women. However, if women are overweight or obese, then they are likely to develop sleep apnea as well. Moreover, the risk increases once they cross their menopausal age.


Hypertension or high blood pressure can also become a cause of sleep apnea. Due to the excessive force with the blood pumps against the walls, hypertension can lead to narrower airways, resulting in breathing difficulties due to lower levels of oxygen. This can then develop into sleep apnea.

Family History

If sleep apnea runs in your family, then you can end up developing it in your life as well. This could be enough of a cause for the disorder since it can imply that you can inherit the narrow pathways that could lead to apnea. Inherited diabetes or associated conditions can also lead to the development of sleep apnea.

Substance Consumption

Consuming alcohol or similar substances can be another reason for sleep apnea. It can cause your throat muscles to weaken, allowing the airway to become narrower. While this might not take place with smaller quantities, higher quantities or frequent consumption could increase the risk.

Other substances can also include tranquilizers, sedatives and other drugs that can have the same impact if consumed more than necessary.

Smoking can be another cause of sleep apnea. This is because it can cause more swelling in the airway. Frequent smokers have a greater risk of developing sleep apnea as compared to non-smokers.

Nasal Congestion

If you experience frequent blockages inside your nose, then this could become a common cause of sleep apnea as well. These blockages cause breathing issues that can lead to lower oxygen levels.

Further, this kind of congestion can occur due to several reasons that include allergies, colds, a naturally narrow airway or even inherited issues.

Other Conditions

The presence of other conditions can increase the risk of sleep apnea. These conditions include asthma, hormonal conditions, Parkinson’s, polycystic ovary disorder (PCOS) and more.

While these conditions may not definitely lead to sleep apnea, they can certainly increase the risk or intensity of it.

Final Remarks

You now know all about the symptoms and causes of sleep apnea. To sum up, excessive muscle relaxation is the main cause of this kind of sleep apnea, but there are several other causes that can worsen this sleep disorder even more.

If you notice that you have a few or multiple of the aforementioned symptoms, then you should keep track of them and try to figure out the difficulties they are causing you. You should also see the doctor to figure out how to deal with the issue.


Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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