What to know about sleep apnea

Poor sleep and feeling groggy may mean you have sleep apnea.


How’s your sleep? Is it hard to get up in the morning?  Do you feel groggy during the day? You might have sleep apnea. As many as 22 million Americans suffer from it. And, it can be a serious problem. Without proper care, it can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even cancer.


What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which you repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night. There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central.  You can have both at the same time.

Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type. It’s caused by soft tissue in the back of the mouth that relaxes and blocks the airway during sleep. OSA is common in adults who are overweight. Enlarged tonsils can also cause OSA, especially in children.


Central sleep apnea

Central sleep apnea happens when the brain sends the wrong signals to the muscles that control breathing. It’s less common than OSA.

Common signs of sleep apnea include:

  • Snoring
  • Choking or gasping during sleep
  • Having to go to the bathroom often during the night
  • Tossing and turning during sleep
  • Feeling tired the next day
  • Waking up with a headache
  • Having trouble concentrating

How do you find out if you have sleep apnea?

Talk to your doctor. You may need to see a sleep specialist and do a sleep study. Many people can use a home sleep test to confirm they have sleep apnea. Others may need to spend a night at a sleep center.

What kind of care do you need if you have sleep apnea?

Currently, there are four ways to treat sleep apnea:

  • Wearing a dental device during sleep. It’s made to fit over your teeth, like a bite guard. It pulls the lower jaw slightly forward to help keep the airway open.
  • Using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. CPAP machines use gentle air pressure through the nose to keep the airway open during sleep.
  • Having surgery to remove tissue at the back of the throat.
  • Having upper airway stimulation (UAS) therapy. With UAS, a device is implanted under the skin, and stimulates the muscles that keep the airway open.

There is also a lot you can do to get better sleep if you have sleep apnea:

  • Lose weight, if you are overweight
  • Don’t drink before bed, and limit alcohol during the day
  • Limit your use of sleep medicines
  • Don’t sleep on your back

If you think you might have sleep apnea, be sure to talk to your doctor. Getting good sleep is important to your health.



  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
  • UpToDate
  • American Academy of Sleep Medicine


The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.