Obstructive sleep apnea causes breathing disruptions during sleep. Here’s how that obstructive sleep apnea cycle works.
Whether you’re awake or asleep, when you breathe, air travels down your throat, then through your windpipe and into your lungs. The narrowest part of that pathway is at the back of the throat.
During waking hours, muscles keep this pathway open, but when you’re sleeping, those same muscles relax, causing the opening to narrow. The air passing through this narrowed opening can cause the throat to vibrate. This vibration is the snoring which many people experience.
However, in some people, that pathway narrows even further, and not enough air can get through to the lungs. When this happens, the brain sounds an alarm to get the airway open, and the person usually wakes up briefly. The brain then reactivates the muscles that hold the airway open, air can travel through freely once more, and the brain returns to sleep. This disorder is called obstructive sleep apnea.
As you can imagine, when this process is repeated frequently throughout the night, it can result in a pattern of interrupted sleep, as well as a lack of oxygen flow. These issues can result in a range of physical and mental health problems.