Given how common the affliction is in the United States, it’s likely that you’ve at least heard of sleep apnea before. After all, according to the National Council on Aging, while roughly 6 million Americans have been diagnosed with this sleep disorder, it’s estimated that a whopping 30 million actually suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

Despite being such a common sleep disorder, many Americans are still unfamiliar with the finer details of sleep apnea, from its causes to its more serious symptoms. In this article, we’ll explain the root causes of sleep apnea and vitally important information you should know if you or a loved one suffers from this illness. 

What Is Sleep Apnea?

While most Americans have likely at least heard the term “sleep apnea,” many don’t really know much about it beyond the fact that it causes snoring. Essentially, sleep apnea is a condition that interrupts a person’s normal breathing patterns during sleep, causing them to pause breathing entirely for up to several seconds at a time.

In mild cases, people experience 5 to 15 pauses in breathing per hour. And a serious case could see as many as 30 interruptions in a single hour.

Most famously, these interruptions in breathing can lead to loud snoring, but more seriously, they drastically reduce the benefits a body gets from sleeping. Severe sleep apnea results in feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep, headaches, excessive daytime tiredness, and poor mood and concentration from not getting proper sleep.

Many people aren’t aware that there are two major kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive and central. While both have the same ultimate result (pauses in breathing during sleep), these two varieties of sleep affect the body differently and stem from different causes.

  • Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)Central sleep apnea is caused when the brain temporarily loses contact with the muscles responsible for breathing. When the brain’s signals are interrupted, the air channel becomes blocked and causes a breathing interruption.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)Obstructive sleep apnea, on the other hand, is a more physical and mechanical problem. It occurs when the airway in one’s mouth or throat becomes temporarily blocked by a physical interruption, generally caused by another body part.
  • Complex Sleep Apnea This third, less common variety occurs when a person suffers from both central and obstructive sleep apnea. 

How Important Are Genetics as a Risk Factor for Sleep Apnea?

Central sleep apnea doesn’t appear to be a genetic disorder. However, Obstructive sleep apnea can be genetic. If you have a parent, sibling, or child with OSA, you have an increased risk of developing OSA.

Genetic Risk Factors

The most common genetic traits that lead to sleep apnea are:

  • A narrow throat
  • Receded lower jaw
  • An unusually large or long tongue
  • A longer-than-usual soft palate 
  • A significantly arched hard palate
  • A thick neck
  • Large tonsils

All of these traits contribute to the likelihood of airways naturally becoming temporarily blocked during sleep, as they can physically get in the way of airflow. In addition, certain genes or DNA sequences can also increase the chances of developing OSA: angiopoietin 2, G-protein receptor gene, and dopamine receptor D1 encoding gene, to name a few.

Lastly, there are certain heritable medical conditions that can potentially contribute to developing sleep apnea. Some of the more significant factors include obesity, heart conditions, down syndrome, or cerebral palsy. 

Lifestyle Risk Factors

There are some lifestyle risks for developing both OSA and CSA. Some risk factors for developing OSA include:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Postmenopause
  • Medical Conditions
  • Nasal Congestion

CSA has fewer risk factors, including:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Medical Conditions
  • Medications

In short, there are many ways a person could develop either OSA or CSA, either from lifestyle choices or simply through genetic predisposition.

Turn to DreamZz Sleep Center For Sleep Apnea Treatment

When we mentioned some of the common symptoms of sleep apnea earlier (irritability, tiredness, headaches), it can seem like a fairly minor problem. However, if left untreated for long enough, sleep apnea can lead to more serious issues such as heart disease, severe depression, high blood pressure, or diabetes. As such, seeking treatment for sleep apnea early in life is vitally important. That’s where the DreamZz Sleep Center comes in.

As the Seattle area’s leading experts in sleep sciences and solutions, we specialize in treating not only sleep apnea but also insomnia, narcolepsy, parasomnias, and more. Using our top-notch experts to seek treatment for your sleeping issue is as easy as booking an appointment with our specialist, Dr. Mereddy, and setting up a consultation and testing that can even be done from the convenience of your own home.

Don’t let sleep apnea slow you down. Contact us today.