What are the Most Common Causes of Sleep Apnea?

Categories: Sleep Apnea, Snoring

If you have sleep apnea, you will often stop breathing during sleep. The two main forms of the disease are obstructive sleep apnea (due to physical airway obstruction) and central sleep apnea (due to loss of signal in the brain). Understanding the risk factors of the condition can also help. Here are some common causes of sleep apnea.


The most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea is mechanical obstruction due to obesity. If you overeat, there is an increase in fat stores in the soft tissues of the neck. This excess tissue temporarily blocks your airways, causing sleep apnea, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea may include the following:

  • Loud snoring
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Morning headaches
  • Dull, foggy thinking
  • Dry mouth and sore throat
  • Depression or anxiety

The best treatment for obesity-related sleep apnea is weight loss, but because sleep apnea causes fatigue, many people get into a downward spiral if they do not receive some form of treatment.

Anatomy Issues

There are many structures in the oral cavity that can cause obstructive sleep apnea, even if you are not fit, according to Penn Medicine. These anatomy features include:

  • Irregularly shaped airways: Certain airway abnormalities may predict collapse. It can also appear on the roof of the mouth, also known as the palate.
  • Small jaw: A small jaw compared to the upper jaw may increase the risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Hypertrophy of the tongue: The medical term “hypertrophy” means enlarged tongue. A large tongue can fall back into the airways and cause obstruction.
  • Hypertrophy of the tonsils and adenoids: large tonsils and adenoids can also block the airways and cause a disorder.

Brain Signaling Issues

Problems with impaired brain signals can be categorized as central sleep apnea, which is rarer than obstructive sleep apnea. Here the problem is not caused by an obstacle, but by the fact that the brain does not send the body the right signals to breathe. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following factors are associated with central sleep apnea:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Opioid use
  • End-stage kidney disease

Symptoms of central sleep apnea are like obstructive sleep apnea, but snoring is less pronounced. Treatment is more restrictive and includes root cause treatment, mechanical forced air devices, and supplemental oxygen.


There is a significant association between smoking and obstructive sleep apnea. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who smoke are 3 times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than those who have never smoked. The hope of developing this disease can therefore serve as a strong motivator in smoking cessation.

Dr. Montz, Dr. Maher, or Dr. Dunwody at Houston Sleep Solutions South will be able to help you determine if sleep apnea treatment is right for you. Contact us now.

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