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5 Sleep Apnea Risk Factors and Causes

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While it is true that anyone can develop Sleep Apnea, we set out to gather the top five factors that can create a higher Sleep Apnea risk. Because it’s difficult to diagnose yourself during sleep, most people learn about their Sleep Apnea through a family member or partner who shares the bedroom. Whether it’s comments about snoring or concern over not breathing, these discussions help raise awareness about the issue and encourage potential Sleep Apnea sufferers to seek treatment from a medical professional. 

Taking Sleep Medication Can Worsen Sleep Apnea

5 causes of sleep apnea

Did you know your nighttime medication might be exacerbating breathing problems during sleep? According to a 2013 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 9 million people across the U.S. took a prescription sleeping pill in the past month, and these medications have been known to make Sleep Apnea potentially more dangerous.

Individual Sleep Apnea episodes only end when the sleeping individual is jarred awake due to snoring, a lack of oxygen, or another respiratory distress signal. Sleeping pills make it harder to pull out of the deep sleep cycle, and can make the Sleep Apnea episode continue for longer.

Can Weight Loss Resolve Sleep Apnea?

Losing weight can help address symptoms of Sleep Apnea, but it’s not enough to treat the condition. It’s important to combine weight loss with CPAP therapy as treatment. Weight gain is one of the common causes of Sleep Apnea, as excess body weight tends to accumulate around the neck area. This results in airway restrictions, which can lead to a cessation of breathing as a person sleeps. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) showed that over 50% of individuals with Sleep Apnea are categorized as overweight.

Untreated Sleep Apnea itself has been shown to be a cause of weight gain. As the sleep cycle is compromised due to the Sleep Apnea episodes, the body’s hormones that normally regulate hunger are thrown out of rhythm. The individual then tends to seek unhealthy food options, creating even more issues on the scale.

Sleep Apnea Risk in Young People

Although it is more common after age 40, Sleep Apnea can affect people of all ages, including children. While most patients can trace the causes of Sleep Apnea back to either weight issues or problems with their current medications, some people may be predisposed to the condition due to inherited physical traits. The composition of your head, skull, and oral cavities, for example, can influence your chances of having Sleep Apnea.

Birth defects, including Pierre Robin sequence and Down syndrome, have also been linked to Sleep Apnea. Although less common, another genetic defect called AAT, or alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, can be the cause of Sleep Apnea in some patients as well.

Alcohol and Sleep Apnea Risk

Although it may help you get to sleep, alcohol can worsen your Sleep Apnea as it loosens the muscles in the back of your throat, which can obstruct the airways even more and exacerbate symptoms of Sleep Apnea. Extreme consumption of alcohol can also cause weight gain, another one of the causes of Sleep Apnea. While it might help you fall asleep faster, alcohol reduces rapid eye movement (REM) during your sleep. You’ll likely wake up several times throughout the night, affecting your overall quality of sleep.

Sleep Apnea Risk by Sleeping Position

Though back sleepers are at a higher risk for the condition, Sleep Apnea can arise for all sleeping positions. Back sleepers force the weight of their neck and its surrounding muscles and tissues directly on the airway, causing restrictions and obstructing the airway throughout the night. A high-quality pillow can help minimize poor head and neck positioning during sleep, but most individuals will be better off sleeping on their side.

Other Causes of Sleep Apnea

This is not a comprehensive list of all the risk factors and causes of Sleep Apnea. So, if you feel you’re at an added risk based on these factors, or if you have developed one or more symptoms of Sleep Apnea, it’s important to schedule an appointment with a medical professional right away. This will help identify the issue early on, allowing you to get the proper treatment and minimize the symptoms.

  • Daniela Brannon

    Daniela has researched and published over 60 articles covering topics that aim to inform and empower people living with Sleep Apnea. As an avid reader and researcher, Daniela continues to grow her knowledge about Sleep Apnea and CPAP therapy everyday with the help of coworkers, CPAP.com customers, and members of other CPAP communities online.

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One Response

  1. Prolonged cases of sleep apnea cause reducesd oxygen levels in the brain, from multiple apneas, which, in turn can induce the brain to require more heart beats to pump greater levels of blood carrying oxygen to the brain. Your heart is subjected to greater levels of stress. In short, your sleep apnea likely causes heart condition which may kill you prematurely.

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