If you stop breathing while sleeping, does it affect your body?

stop breathing while you sleepSnoring is a normal sleeping habit for almost 50 percent of people, however, some of these noisy sleepers may actually stop breathing for 30 seconds or longer several times a night. If you stop breathing while sleeping, does it affect your body?

Continue reading to learn what this interrupted breathing may mean as well as how it can affect your body, what causes it, and how to treat this condition.

What does it mean when you stop breathing while sleeping


If you stop breathing while you’re sleeping, you may have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea affects over 18 million adults and can take three forms. The first is called central sleep apnea, which is where the brain fails to notify the muscles to control breathing. This type of sleep apnea is less common and does not cause snoring. The second kind of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when the soft tissue of the throat relaxes during sleep and blocks the airway, resulting in snoring. Finally, the third form is called complex sleep apnea and is a combination of the two previous forms.

How long do people stop breathing while sleeping?

Patients with sleep apnea may stop breathing for a period of time that lasts anywhere from ten seconds to two minutes. These interruptions in breathing can occur multiple times throughout the night.

How can it affect your body?

During what is referred to as an apneic event, your pause in breathing can trigger a loud snorting or choking that wakes you up to take a breath. This occurs due to your heart rate slowing because of the lack of oxygen intake. This lower level of oxygen is picked up by the brain, which then sends a signal to speed your heart rate up and rouse you from sleep in order to take another breath, often causing you to snort, choke, or gasp. This cycle repeating throughout the night can lead to sleep deprivation and exhaustion the following day as your sleep cycle is consistently interrupted. Sleep apnea has been linked to medical conditions such as stroke, diabetes, depression, ADHD, headaches, high blood pressure, and heart failure.

Stop breathing while sleeping: Causes and risk factors

Sleep apnea may be caused by a variety of issues such as an allergic reaction, cardiac arrest, asthma, lung problems, fluid in the lungs, or drug overdose. These causes are severe and should be looked into by a health care professional. Sleep apnea may also occur due to a head injury, damage to the nervous system, metabolic disorders, or stroke. While sleep apnea may happen to anyone, it is more common in men over the age of 40 who are overweight. This condition is also common in overweight women as well as individuals with nasal obstruction or gastrointestinal disorders.

Self-care tips to reduce sleep apnea symptoms

To reduce your risk of experiencing sleep apnea and get a better night’s sleep, it may be worthwhile to make some lifestyle changes. Losing weight, quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol or sedatives, getting regular exercise, and maintaining a strict sleep schedule can all help you regulate your sleep patterns and prevent interruptions caused by apneic events.

Also, sleeping on your side can reduce your risk of snoring or experiencing apneic events, as they most often happen when sleeping on your back. Try putting a tennis ball in your back pocket to prevent you from rolling over and sleeping on your back. Also, elevating your head with pillows can ease air flow and make it less likely that you will stop breathing throughout the night.

Sleep apnea treatment options

If your sleep apnea is severe and is causing consistent disruptions, you may need to seek one or more of a variety of treatment options. These options are:

CPAP: A CPAP, or continuous positive airflow pressure machine, is one of the most common treatments used for obstructive sleep apnea. A mask is placed over your nose and mouth that is hooked up to a machine that pumps a constant stream of air into the airway, keeping it open and preventing your breathing passages from becoming obstructed while you sleep. Other breathing devices can be used, such as an expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP) device, which is a single-use device that fits over the nose to keep the airway open; a bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP) device, which can assist a weak breathing pattern caused by central sleep apnea; or an adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) device, which provides airflow pressure based on your breathing pattern to prevent interruptions while you sleep.

Dental devices: Devices may be small and acrylic and worn inside of the mouth like a mouth guard, while others are worn around the head and chin to position the lower jaw. Dental devices are only effective for mild to moderate sleep apnea and commonly work by bringing your lower jaw or tongue forward during sleep to open the airway.

Sleep apnea implants: A newer treatment for sleep apnea involves implanting a pacemaker system that keeps your airways open by stimulating the muscles involved during sleep.


Surgery: If no other treatment option has relieved your symptoms, surgery may be performed to increase the size of your airway in order to reduce apneic events. Your surgeon may remove excess tissue, tonsils, or adenoids as well as reconstruct the jaw or implant plastic rods into the soft palate to keep it stable during sleep.

Sleep apnea may be more than just a common annoyance, as it has been linked to more serious conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and depression. It can also impact your ability to perform daily tasks, as it can reduce sleep quality resulting in exhaustion. If you are suffering from apneic events, talk to your doctor in order to discuss lifestyle changes and treatment options that may help prevent your condition from worsening.

Related: Post-operative problems increase with sleep apnea

Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.



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