Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes a person
to stop breathing while asleep, sometimes for
up to 30 seconds at a time. The condition typically
causes a person to wake up many times during
the night when breathing stops, resulting in
lack of sleep.
Most people suffer from a type called obstructive
sleep apnea, in which something in the throat
blocks the airway and interrupts breathing.
The American Academy of Family Physicians says
most often the blockage is caused by the tonsils,
tongue or uvula at the back of the throat. A
less common type is called central sleep apnea,
which is caused by an abnormality in the central
nervous system that leads to inconsistent breathing.
Symptoms of sleep apnea may include heavy snoring,
fatigue, and even dangerous instances of falling
asleep during the day -- such as while driving.
Sleep apnea can be treated with lifestyle changes,
including avoiding alcohol and smoking, and
losing weight. Or special devices can be prescribed
to help make breathing easier during sleep.