Sleep apnea is a very common problem, but it’s a condition that many people may not understand. There are multiple causes for sleep apnea, and there are certain factors that can definitely make it worse or more likely to occur.
Sleep apnea is all about breathing: when your breathing is shallow or obstructed while you sleep, it causes pauses in your breathing and sleep that isn’t restful. Understanding what can contribute to this problem can help you avoid it. Here are some of the major causes and risk factors for sleep apnea:
- You’re getting older
Although people of any age can suffer from sleep apnea, the numbers suggest that those between the ages of 40-60 are affected the most. One in 25 middle-aged men and one in 50 middle-aged women have sleep apnea, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
- You’re a man
Statistically, men are far more likely to suffer from sleep apnea; Men are diagnosed with sleep apnea 2-3 times more often than women.
- You have a narrow airway
Sometimes you just lose the genetic lottery – it’s possible to be born with an airway or throat that is just naturally narrow. Sometimes, the problem is so serious it can require surgery to correct. But in most cases, it just means you have to be hyper aware of the risk of sleep apnea.
- You drink alcohol at night
Alcohol relaxes the muscles. Have you ever had a few drinks before bed, and then had someone tell you the next morning that you were snoring? The alcohol has caused your throat muscles to relax, which makes your airway more collapsible, leading to breathing problems. Those breathing problems can cause or worsen snoring and sleep apnea.
- You’re overweight
Being overweight or obese can lead to a lot of health problems, but did you know sleep apnea is one of them? Extra soft fat tissue can cause the windpipe to narrow, which prevents optimal airflow. Being overweight is one of the biggest factors when it comes to sleep apnea: more than half of those with the disorder are overweight.
- You smoke
Just like being overweight, smoking already has a host of other health consequences associated with it, including sleep apnea. According to one study, smokers are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than non-smokers. Smoking causes swelling in the airway, which can lead to obstructed breathing.
- You have allergies or other nasal congestion
Since sleep apnea is all about breathing, and being able to breathe while you sleep, it’s only natural that nasal problems can make sleep apnea worse. If your nasal passages are obstructed, your airway isn’t getting sufficient air pushed through it. Studies have shown that nasal obstruction can be a direct cause of sleep apnea.
- You have large tonsils and adenoids (children)
Children can suffer from sleep apnea, and it is often caused by enlarged tonsils. A 2013 study found that removing swollen tonsils and adenoids (lymphatic tissue located near the nasal cavity) from children helped treat sleep apnea and snoring. Additionally, the children experienced improvement in quality of sleep and behavior.