Have you heard of Sleep Apnea?

Have you heard of a condition called Sleep Apnea?

It’s a medical condition where you repeatedly stop and start breathing while you sleep. Over the past number of years we have learned a lot more about sleep apnea. What risk factors put us at higher risk of developing it, how having it can negatively impact our health, and what treatment options are available?


There are actually different types of sleep apnea:

1) Obstructive Sleep Apnea is by far the most common. It occurs when the muscles that support the soft structures in our mouth and throat relax during sleep and as a result the structures block our airway.

Our brain senses the decrease in oxygen and rouses us from sleep so that we open our airways. This can happen 30 times or more each hour without people even knowing!

Obviously this does not allow for a restful sleep and can put us at risk for other conditions. It affects about a quarter of adults aged 30-70. It does affect people of all ages, genders and races but is more common as we get older. It’s also about twice as common in men.

2) Central Sleep Apnea is far less common than Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This occurs when the brain fails to transmit signals to your breathing muscles and you simply don’t breathe for a short period of time.

3) Complex or Treatment-Emergent Sleep Apnea is a condition where someone has both Obstructive and Central Sleep Apnea.

There are multiple risk factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). A number of them are out of your control such as age, gender and family history.

The factors that you can control include:

  • Excess body weight
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol and sedative use

Why do we care about OSA? 

We know how important getting a restful sleep is to our quality of life.

Daytime sleepiness, fatigue and irritability are just a few of the more common symptoms we feel when our sleep is negatively impacted.

Beyond the fatigue and irritability people experience, obstructive sleep apnea is associated with other serious health conditions. These include:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Coronary artery disease (blockages in the heart arteries)
  • Stroke (blockages in the brain arteries)
  • Atrial fibrillation and flutter (types of heart arrhythmias)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs)

Many people with OSA also snore. This may impact your partner’s ability to sleep, therefore they themselves may feel the symptoms associated with loss of sleep and potentially add strain to the relationship.


The GOOD NEWS is that there are treatment options. If you are able to lose weight, stop smoking and alcohol use, that may be enough to successfully treat OSA.

Beyond risk factor management, using a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine while sleeping will not allow the soft structures in your mouth and throat to collapse and block your airway. This in turn keeps you from waking up and giving your body the restful sleep it needs to function.

It often takes a bit of time to get used to wearing the mask on the CPAP machine. If you are able to persevere and gradually build up the amount of time you use the machine while you are sleeping, you are greatly reducing the risk of developing the other serious health conditions that are associated with obstructive sleep apnea.

Even as little as 4 hours a night using the CPAP machine has shown to decrease some health risks.


If using the CPAP machine is not an option for some reason then another possibility is to wear a dental appliance.

In certain situations surgery to remove or modify the tissues in the mouth or throat may be an option.

Other new treatment options will continue to be explored given that OSA is such a common condition that negatively impacts quality of life and increases the risk of serious health conditions.

If you question whether you or your partner may have sleep apnea, we encourage you to speak to your doctor about it and look to get tested.

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Shawna Cook

Shawna is a Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine, who has been working in Cardiac Rehabilitation for over 10 years. Her years in the health and fitness field however have spanned over the past 2+ decades. As an elite level athlete she fell in love with understanding the human body, and how the choices she made, affected how it performed. This led to a degree from the University of Winnipeg in the stream of Athletic Therapy, and the passion towards helping others recover from injury and "be their best selves" grew.