Causes of Sleep Apnea
Throat muscles usually make sure your airway is stiff and open, especially when your awake, so air can freely float into your lungs. These muscles are more relaxed when you are sleeping, but normally this would not prevent your airway from staying open, allowing air to flow into your lungs.
However, if you are suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, your airway could be narrowed or even blocked during sleep.
This could happen because:
- Your tongue and throat muscles relax more than normal.
- Your tongue and tonsils (tissue masses in the back of your mouth) are large compared to the opening into your windpipe.
- You are overweight. The extra soft fat tissue can thicken the wall of your windpipe. This causes the inside opening to narrow, which makes it harder to keep open.
- The shape of your head and neck (bony structure) may cause a smaller airway size in the mouth and throat area.
- The aging process limits your brain signals' ability to keep your throat muscles stiff during sleep. This makes it more likely that the airway will narrow or collapse.
If your airway is partly or even fully blocked during sleep, not enough air will flow into your longs. This could cause snoring and a drop in your blood oxygen level.
When the oxygen reaches a dangerous low level, it causes your brain to disturb your sleep. Your airway muscles will tighten and open your windpipe. Breathing starts to become normal again, winch often starts with a loud snort or chocking sound.
These drops in oxygen levels and especially this reduced sleep quality triggers the release of stress hormones. This could be the cause of a raise in your heart rate, increase in high blood pressure, even a heart attack or stroke, or irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia's). The risk of heart failure could also be raised by these stress hormones.
Changes in how your body uses energy could also be caused by sleep apnea, increasing the risk of obesity and diabetes.