5 Reasons Why Sleep Apnea Happens

5 Reasons Why Sleep Apnea Happens

According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep apnea affects an estimated 22 million Americans. This serious sleep disorder occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea (the most common type) is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.

photo of sleeping man
Men develop sleep apnea far more often than women./Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

There are many factors that can contribute to the development of sleep apnea. In this blog post, we will discuss five of the most common reasons why people develop this disorder.

by David Stone

1. Excessive weight. One of the most common risk factors for sleep apnea is excess weight. In fact, obesity is thought to be responsible for as many as 50-60% of cases of adults.

This is because excess weight can lead to the deposition of fatty tissue around the neck, which narrows the airway and makes it more likely to collapse during sleep. If you are overweight or obese and have symptoms of sleep apnea, weight loss may help improve your condition.

2. Enlarged adenoids or tonsils. Enlarged adenoids or tonsils (especially in children) can obstruct the airway and cause sleep apnea. Adenoids are small pieces of lymphatic tissue located at the back of the nose, just above where the soft palate meets the hard palate.

Tonsils are similarly located at the back of the mouth, just behind where your tongue meets your throat. Enlargement of either of these structures can partly or completely block the airway and cause difficulty breathing during sleep. Surgery to remove the adenoids or tonsils (adenotonsillectomy) is often effective in treating the disease in childhood.

3. Family history. Sleep apnea can run in families, which suggests that there may be a genetic component to this condition. If you have a family member with sleep apnea, you may be at increased risk for developing the condition yourself.

Top Ways of Treating Sleep Apnea

1. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy

2. Oral appliances

3. Weight loss and healthy lifestyle changes

4. Surgery to remove excess tissue in the throat or enlarge the airway

4. Smoking. Smoking is a risk factor for many different health conditions, and sleep apnea is no exception. It irritates and inflames the tissues lining your airway, making it more likely to narrow during sleep and causing difficulty breathing.

If you smoke and have symptoms of sleep apnea, quitting smoking may help improve your condition.

5. Alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers. Drugs that depress your central nervous system—such as alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers—can make it difficult to keep your airway open during sleep resulting in sleep apnea symptoms.

If you drink alcohol regularly or take any drugs that depress your central nervous system (such as benzodiazepines), talk to your doctor about how these might be affecting your breathing during sleep and whether abstaining from them might help lessen your symptoms.


These are just some of the most common reasons why people develop sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by pauses in breathing while asleep.

If you have symptoms like breathlessness, loud snoring, choking sensations, morning headaches, difficulty concentrating, moodiness, or excessive daytime tiredness that disrupt your daily life, consult your doctor.

With proper diagnosis, determining underlying causes and treatment, you may well find significant symptom relief and improved quality during waking hours. Do not hesitate. Reach out for help if you think you may have a sleep disorder.

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