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by EBSCO Medical Review Board

Conditions InDepth: Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is when breathing stops for a brief time during sleep. It can last for more than 10 seconds. It may happen up to 30 times per hour.
Normal Upper Airway During Sleep
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Lack of sleep affects a person's focus. It may also result in:
The types of apnea are:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

This is when the tissues of the throat relax too much and cave in on each other. This causes a brief block in air flow that may be partial or complete. A person who is overweight may have too much tissue. A deviated septum, nasal polyps, large tonsils, or an elongated soft palate and uvula can also cause the block.
Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are the most common reason for this problem in children.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

This is when the lower brain stem does not send signals to the muscles that control breathing. This can happen when a person has health problems of the brain and central nervous system. Some examples are polio, encephalitis, stroke, and brain tumors. Being born too early is the most common reason for this problem in children.


Central sleep apnea. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/central-sleep-apnea. Accessed September 17, 2020.
Greenstone M, Hack M. Obstructive sleep apnoea. BMJ. 2014 Jun 17;348:g3745.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/obstructive-sleep-apnea-osa-in-adults. Accessed September 16, 2020.
Sleep apnea. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sleepapnea. Accessed September 16, 2020.
Sleep apnea information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Sleep-Apnea-Information-Page. Accessed September 16, 2020.
Snoring, sleeping disorders, and sleep apnea. ENThealth—American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/content/snoring-and-sleep-apnea. Accessed September 17, 2020.
What is sleep apnea? American Sleep Apnea Association website. Available at: https://www.sleepapnea.org/learn/sleep-apnea. Accessed September 16, 2020.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD
  • Review Date: 03/2020
  • Update Date: 04/06/2021