The Mechanics of Sleep Apnea

The mechanics of sleep apnea event are understood quite well, although there may be variations from one person to another regarding the exact place of the occlusion. As we fall asleep, some muscles in the body relax and lose their tension. In some individuals the upper airway may have a tendency to collapse – it could be in the soft palate or at the base of the throat and the uvula.

Obstructive sleep apnea may also be caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids or individual anatomic differences such as a large tongue or small airway opening.

When the obstruction occurs the airflow is blocked, either partially (hypopnea) or completely (apnea).

The blood oxygen level decreases and the carbon dioxide level increases. The body tries harder and harder to breathe to compensate for the inadequate ventilation and finally a moment comes when the extra effort wakes you up, immediately causing the muscles to retain their tension and the airways to open up.

The time of being awake is usually so short that most people do not register it and have no recollection of how many times they went through this cycle. After one or two deep breaths the body slowly goes back to sleep and the cycle repeats itself.

The person is awakened repeatedly throughout the night in short time intervals in what is called a fragmented sleep. Because of that, a sleep apnea sufferer never falls into deeper sleep stages that are necessary to feel rested and fresh in the morning.


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