What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common breathing disorder that affects millions of people. Your throat has muscles that hold open your airway and allow you to breathe in and out. If you have sleep apnea, those muscles relax too much while you're sleeping. This makes the airway close. Your brain notices this, and wakes you up so you'll start breathing again. If this happens a lot, you won't sleep well, and you could feel sleepy and unable to think straight during the day.

Sleep apnea is serious. It can increase the risk for, or worsen, some medical conditions, and increase the chance of having an accident at work or while driving. In some cases, these effects of sleep apnea may be bad enough that your doctor will consider surgery to solve the problem.

What are the signs or symptoms of sleep apnea?

The most common signs of sleep apnea are loud snoring, choking or gasping during sleep, and being very sleepy during the day. You may also wake up with headaches or a dry throat, and have trouble concentrating during the day.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/29/2014.


  • American Sleep Apnea Association. Varieties of OSA Surgery Accessed 10/6/2014.
  • Weinberger PM, Terris DJ. Chapter 15. Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery. In: Doherty GM. eds. CURRENT Diagnosis & Treatment: Surgery, 13e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2010. library.ccf.org Accessed 10/6/2014.
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is Sleep Apnea? Accessed 10/6/2014.

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