What is Sleep Apnea?

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation


Learn the signs that may point to this condition.


Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night gasping for air? Does your partner complain about your incessant, loud snoring? Do you feel more tired in the morning than when you went to bed? Then you could be one of the 18 million American adults who have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a condition in which the upper passages of your airways close up, cutting off your oxygen and interrupting your breathing until you wake up and start breathing again. The only way to confirm whether you have sleep apnea is to take a sleep test, where experts record what happens while you snooze. But these are the common signs of sleep apnea:

Loud, Consistent Snoring.

Sawing logs now and then is normal, but if you snore loud enough to wake your partner on a regular basis, it could be a sign of sleep apnea.

Waking Up to Breathe.

A key symptom is rousing in the middle of the night to gasp for air, trying to breathe. If you have severe sleep apnea, this can happen hundreds of times a night without your even knowing it.

Daytime Sleepiness.

Being excessively tired during the day is another clue that you may have sleep apnea. Those who suffer from the condition may drift off in the middle of conversations or during meals. But feeling moderately sleepy and wanting to take an afternoon nap most likely isn’t a sign of sleep apnea.

Sleeping with Your Mouth Open.

Consistently waking up with a very dry mouth is an indication that you likely sleep with your mouth open. People with OSA usually snooze that way since it’s very hard to get enough air through the nose.

If you regularly experience these symptoms, talk to your doctor. (Sleep apnea increases your risk for high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, liver problems and other serious health conditions, so see your doctor sooner rather than later.) Lifestyle changes are often recommended as treatment, such as weight loss, decreasing alcohol consumption, and changing sleeping positions. Oral devices, nasal strips, and even surgery can be used in some cases. Another common treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, which is a mask that goes over the nose or mouth and blows continuous air through your airways to help you maintain normal breathing.