Obstructive sleep apnea causes disruptions in breathing during sleep. Here’s how the obstructive sleep apnea cycle works.
When you breathe, whether you’re awake or asleep, air travels down your throat, through your windpipe and into your lungs. The narrowest part of that pathway is at the back of your throat.
When you're awake, muscles keep this pathway open, but when you’re sleeping, those muscles relax, and the opening narrows. The air passing through this narrowed opening may cause the throat to vibrate. This is snoring, which many people experience.
In some people, however, the pathway narrows too much, and not enough air can get through to the lungs. When this happens, the brain essentially sound the alarm to get the airway open, and the person usually wakes up briefly. The brain reactivates the muscles that hold the airway open, air can travel through freely again, and the brain goes back to sleep. This disorder is called obstructive sleep apnea.
As you might imagine, when this process is repeated frequently throughout the night, it can result in a lot of interrupted sleep, and a lack of oxygen flow, too. These issues can result in a variety of physical and mental health problems.