What causes sleep apnea?
There are 2 kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive apnea and central apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type. Nine out of 10 people who have sleep apnea have this type of apnea. If you have obstructive apnea, something is blocking the airway that brings air into your body (also called the trachea). When you try to breathe, you can't get enough air because of the blockage. Your airway might be blocked by your tongue, tonsils or uvula (the little piece of flesh that hangs down in the back of your throat). It might also be blocked by a large amount of fatty tissue in the throat or by relaxed throat muscles.
Central sleep apnea is less common. This type of sleep apnea is related to the function of the central nervous system. If you have this type of apnea, the muscles you use to breathe don't get the "go-ahead" signal from your brain. Either the brain doesn't send the signal, or the signal gets interrupted.
Obstructive sleep apnea
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff