Obstructive sleep apnea is by far the more common form of the disorder. During sleep, an OSA patient’s tongue, soft palate, and uvula fall onto the back of the throat, blocking the airway. This type of sleep apnea can be mild, moderate, or severe, with a complete blockage indicating severe OSA. As air becomes more obstructed, a patient’s blood oxygen levels will decrease, signaling the brain to wake up. A patient may not fully regain consciousness, or the interruptions may be so brief that he or she does not remember waking up. However, these repeated disruptions prevent a patient from ever reaching a deeper level of sleep.
Sleep-disordered breathing affects 34% of men and 17% of women between the ages of 30 to 70.1 Scientists are not sure what causes obstructive sleep apnea. Overweight, middle-aged males are most commonly affected by sleep apnea, but the disease also affects women and children of all ages and sizes. Other risk factors for sleep apnea include sleeping on the back, smoking, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, a small jaw, and certain medications.
Peppard et al. Increased prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing in adults. Am J Epidemiology 2013 (5.17)