What are the common risk factors associated with having sleep apnea?

Q:

What are the common risk factors associated with having sleep apnea?

A:

Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person’s breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. Apnea occurs when the sleeper’s breathing is paused for ten seconds or more. While there are several types of sleep apnea, this interruption is usually caused when a person’s airway relaxes or collapses when he or she is sleeping. This obstruction may cause the person to snore loudly, startle awake during the night or fail to sleep deeply. A less common type of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, is caused by miscommunication between the brain and the muscles controlling breathing. In some cases, a person may experience complex sleep apnea syndrome, a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.


Anyone may suffer from sleep apnea but there are some specific risk factors. Obesity and smoking both increase the risk of an individual developing the obstructive form of this condition. Individuals with a narrow neck circumference, or a narrowed airway, are also at greater risk of experiencing sleep apnea. The condition occurs more commonly among men and the elderly. Alcohol, sedatives, or other medications may cause someone to experience sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea is more likely to be associated cardiac related medical conditions or the use of certain medications.


Sleep apnea may be difficult to diagnose as the sufferer may not be aware of the sleep disturbances it causes. Some symptoms that may indicate night time sleep irregularities include daytime fatigue, waking with a headache or sore throat, insomnia, irritability, hypersomnia (daytime drowsiness), and difficulty focusing.


Sleep apnea not only causes the sufferer to have poor sleep but also to suffer oxygen deprivation during the apnea episodes. If untreated, sleep apnea may lead to the development of other health complications. If untreated, sleep apnea may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. Individuals who experience sleep apnea may be at increased risk of developing diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or liver problems as well. Sleep apnea sufferers are also at higher risk unintentionally falling asleep while driving or at work (Learn more in "What Happens if Your Employees Have Sleep Apnea?").

Have a question? Ask Shauna here.

View all questions from Shauna Krahn.

Share this:
Written by Shauna Krahn
Profile Picture of Shauna Krahn
Shauna Krahn is the manager of medical services at SureHire Occupational Testing, a leading expert in the occupational health and wellness testing industry. SureHire is revolutionizing the occupational testing industry through its proprietary Fitness-to-Work assessments, drug testing adulteration protocols, automated tracking systems, standardized national training and certification system, and industry leading online technologies.   Full Bio