What is Sleep Apnea: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment - The Sleep Institute

What is Sleep Apnea: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a prevalent sleep disorder affecting millions of people globally. It is characterized by repetitive breathing pauses during sleep, which can last from a few seconds to a few minutes and can occur many times throughout the night. The consequences of sleep apnea on both physical and mental health make it vital for those who experience symptoms to seek proper treatment. 

Causes and Types of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is caused by several factors, including physical airway blockages, neurological problems, and lifestyle factors. The two main types of sleep apnea are Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is caused by a physical blockage in the airway, typically due to relaxed throat muscles. The throat muscles may relax and collapse during sleep, leading to a partial or complete blockage of the airway. This can result in reduced airflow and, in some cases, a complete cessation of breathing.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is caused by a failure of the brain to transmit the proper signals to the muscles responsible for breathing. This type of sleep apnea is often associated with other medical conditions, such as heart failure, or the use of certain medications.

Lifestyle factors, such as obesity, age, smoking, alcohol and sedative use, and family history, can also increase the risk of developing sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with medical diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and various forms of heart disease. It is also important to be aware that OSA is often associated with common mental health problems such as depression, anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, people who have a neck circumference of 17 inches or more and men who have a neck circumference of 16 inches or more are also at a higher risk for OSA.

It is important to note that sleep apnea can have a significant impact on physical and mental health, so if you suspect that you or someone you know may have sleep apnea, it is important to seek a proper evaluation from a healthcare provider.

Negative health impacts which can occur from untreated sleep apnea include: inability to lose weight and control weight, difficulty controlling high blood pressure with medication, poor response to antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication as well as a high risk of falling asleep while driving and more accidents at work. People with untreated sleep apnea are at higher risk of having days off from work due to poor health, disability leaves from work and work-related accidents and injuries.

Sick Woman Blowing Nose

Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The following are common symptoms of sleep apnea

  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS): People with sleep apnea often experience fatigue and sleepiness during the day, even after getting enough sleep at night.
  • Loud Snoring: Loud and persistent snoring is one of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea. The snoring may be accompanied by choking, gasping, or pauses in breathing. Snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea, but it is possible to have sleep apnea without snoring. Other symptoms include choking or gasping during sleep, restless tossing and turning, morning headache, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating during the day.
  • Restless Sleeping: People with sleep apnea may move frequently during the night and have trouble staying asleep, resulting in restless sleep.
  • Morning Headaches: People with sleep apnea may experience headaches upon waking, often as a result of low oxygen levels and disrupted sleep.
  • Insomnia: People with sleep apnea may have trouble falling or staying asleep, which can lead to insomnia.
  • Attention and Concentration Problems: People with sleep apnea may experience difficulty focusing and maintaining attention, leading to problems with memory, learning, and productivity.
  • Irritability and Mood Changes: People with sleep apnea may experience changes in mood, including irritability, depression, and anxiety.
  • Chest Pain: Chest pain, particularly during the night can be a sign of sleep apnea, especially in people with underlying heart problems.
  • Dry Mouth and Sore Throat: People with sleep apnea may wake up with a dry mouth or sore throat, due to breathing through the mouth during sleep.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to seek a proper evaluation from a healthcare provider. The earlier sleep apnea is diagnosed, the earlier appropriate treatment can be started to improve the quality of life for those affected by the condition.

Sleep Apnea Home Test

A sleep apnea home test is a self-administered screening tool designed to identify the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea. There are several types of sleep apnea home tests available, including: 

  • Portable Monitoring Devices: Commonly called a Level 3 Sleep Test, portable monitoring devices can be worn while sleeping and record data such as oxygen levels, heart rate, and breathing patterns. These devices can provide an overview of sleep quality and help identify potential sleep apnea when used appropriately.
  • Sleep Diaries: Sleep diaries are a simple and low-cost method for tracking sleep patterns and symptoms. By keeping a record of sleep habits and symptoms, individuals can identify potential sleep disorders including sleep apnea and discuss the findings with their Sleep Specialist Physician.
  • Questionnaires: Questionnaires are another type of sleep apnea assessment that can provide important information about the presence and severity of sleep apnea. These questionnaires ask about symptoms and sleep habits, and can help give additional data to guide testing and managment.

It's important to note that while sleep apnea home tests can provide important information, they are not a substitute for a  proper professional evaluation by a Sleep Specialist Physician. If you suspect that you or someone you know may have sleep apnea, you should seek a proper evaluation from a Sleep Specialist Physician  to confirm the diagnosis and start appropriate treatment. There are many companies that claim to be “Sleep Clinics” which do not have a Sleep Specialist Physician available to directly assess and manage your sleep health issues.

Doctor assisting patient

The Sleep Institute

If you are diagnosed or think you may have sleep apnea, ask your healthcare provider to refer you to The Sleep Institute for assessment and management. You can rest assured that you will be managed directly by a Sleep Specialist Physician and not be simply sent for a Level 3 test and sold a CPAP machine without a comprehensive assessment which is critical in guiding diagnostic testing and appropriate management.  At The Sleep Institute, we offer a range of treatment options, including the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy machines, APAP therapy machines, oral appliance therapy, cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia, and weight loss. Please print this referral form and bring it to your health practitioner to start the referral process:


You may also self-refer.  Please click the link below to start the process:


Man with CPAP machine sleeping

Types of Sleep Apnea Machines

There are several types of sleep apnea machines available, including CPAP, and APAP machines. CPAP machines provide a constant flow of air pressure to keep the airways open, while BiPAP and APAP machines adjust the air pressure based on your breathing patterns. Your Sleep Specialist Physician will work with you to determine the best type of sleep apnea machine for your specific needs.

Man's stomach getting measured by doctor

Risk Factor for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) 

Risk factors for OSA include obesity, diabetes, hypertension, age, smoking, alcohol and sedative use, and family history. People who have a neck circumference of 17 inches or more and men who have a neck circumference of 16 inches or more are also at a higher risk for OSA.

Sleep Apnea Overview

Sleep apnea can have serious consequences for physical and mental health, including an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. More importantly, leaving sleep apnea untreated will reduce the effectiveness of treatments for high blood pressure, depression and anxiety. In addition, sleep apnea has been linked to a range of mental health problems including depression, anxiety, and mood swings. People with sleep apnea may also experience difficulties with memory and concentration, and may feel irritable or have trouble regulating their emotions.

In conclusion, sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that can have a significant impact on quality of life, physical and mental health. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, it is important to seek proper treatment from a healthcare provider. At The Sleep Institute, our team of experts is here to help you receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Contact us today.

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