What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder affecting about 1 million Australians that has the potential for serious, and even fatal complications. Persons with sleep apnea actually stop breathing for brief periods of time (usually 10-20 seconds) while asleep. The pauses in breathing can be very frequent and occur up to 100 times or more per hour. The most common kind of sleep apnea is termed obstructive sleep apnea.

The common symptoms of sleep deprivation may be what bring most people with OSA to see their physician, these may include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor memory
  • Depression


Sleep apnea often results in feelings of fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness, since the ability to reach deep, restorative sleep is impaired. Other warning signs of sleep apnea are often noticed by bed partners and include loud snoring and making snorting or choking sounds at night. Those affected may experience awakening with brief periods of shortness of breath.

The sudden decreases in oxygen levels that occur with sleep apnea place a burden on the cardiovascular system, which must work harder in an attempt to deliver sufficient oxygen to all tissues. This strain causes the development of high blood pressure in approximately half of those suffering from sleep apnea, and this increases the risks of stroke and heart failure. There is also more data emerging which shows a close link between sleep apnea and Diabetes


Testing is especially important in people with Diabetes, High Blood pressure or are overweight.

Healthy upper airway

Healthy upper airway

Obstructed upper airway

When tissues obstruct the upper airway completely, they prevent breathing. They actually work to suffocate the sleeper. The sleeper wakes up enough to regain control of the upper airway, breathe again, and then fall back to sleep. This happens from dozens to hundreds of times per night for people with OSA, but they usually don’t remember waking up.