Sleep Apnea Causes: Getting To the Root of the Problem

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Being diagnosed with sleep apnea is distressing enough. Going through the unsettling symptoms like excessive tiredness during the day, rapid and unexplained weight gain, depression and worst of them all – loud and persistent snoring – all put together are giving you one of the toughest times of your life.

Apart from wanting to know how to get over with it in the shortest possible time, you are keen to know the factors that when behind causing this horrific state of affairs. What are the sleep apnea causes and how did you fall into the trap?

Sleep apnea causes: factors leading to obstructive sleep apnea

Since obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea, let us first get to know the condition a bit better and understand what causes sleep apnea of this type. At the outset, sleep apnea is a condition that originates from neglected snoring, which again is expected fallout of obesity.

Being obese does not always mean gathering those extra pounds around the waist, thighs, etc. It also means accumulating extra fat in the muscles directly responsible for breathing, including throat, tongue, soft palate and uvula. During sleep, when all the muscles of the body are in a relaxed state the muscles of the breathing organs also get relaxed. If obesity has caused these breathing muscles to get weak and flaccid, they may collapse and cause obstruction in the respiratory tract.

This is how sleep apnea originates. Now let us consider what the sleep apnea causes are when the condition is diagnosed as obstructive sleep apnea. There are essentially four stages to this disorder:

1.      Airway collapses or gets obstructed

2.      Breathing gets inhibited or restricted despite efforts

3.      This causes paucity of supply of oxygen to the brain

4.      Paucity of oxygen in the brain causes it to push the body to make more efforts to breathe. This results in frequent gasps in breathing during sleep.

Sleep apnea causes: know what causes obstructions in airflow?

The following factors could be responsible in causing impedance to airflow during breathing:

  • Obesity. Fat tissues accumulate on the walls of the windpipe making it narrower causing major blockage in airflow.
  • Deviated septum: causing one nostril getting to be narrower than the other. Septal deviation is a major sleep apnea cause. Caused by either birth defect or by an injury to the nose area, deviated septum cause countless breathing problems including snoring, chronic sinusitis, etc.
  • Inflamed nasal turbinates
  • Enlarged soft palate and uvula
  • Enlarged tongue or tonsils (larger in relation to the opening to the windpipe) can also obstruct normal flow of air during breathing, especially when the individual is sleeping on the back
  • Thickening of inner throat walls may collapse and block the air passage.
  • Anatomical structure of the head and neck can result in the airway size to be smaller than what is required in the mouth and throat region.
  • Advancing age. Age can restrict the ability for keeping the throat muscles strong and stiff during sleep. Advancing years can also reduce the tone and strength of the breathing muscles resulting in narrowing of the air passage.


As is evident from the above there could be several sleep apnea causes. Of course there are some poor lifestyle choices that precipitate the situation further.

Sleep apnea causes: lifestyle factors and sleeping habits

  • Excessive consumption of alcohol. This results in over-relaxation of breathing muscles causing the individual to snore loudly. If one continues with this lifestyle choice, the condition deteriorates rapidly.
  • Sleeping only on the back. It is important to remember that people suffering from sleep apnea invariably have airways that are narrow. Lying on the back causes the soft palate that is already in a relaxed state, to fall backwards during sleep.
  • Inadequate pillow height may also lead to snoring and subsequently be one of the sleep apnea causes.

Sleep apnea causes: the consequences of the condition

Sleep apnea causes a chain of events – all happening during sleep. Here is an overview of what happens:

  • Insufficient air supply to the lungs causes loud and persistent snoring as well as poor supply of oxygen in the blood.
  • Inadequate levels of oxygen in the blood triggers the brain to disrupt sleep.
  • This in turn tightens the muscles of the airway and opens up the windpipe. Normal breathing resumes, often with a choke or a gasp.