Sleep Apnea
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5 Common Causes of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is believed to affect at least 100 million people worldwide, making it one of the most common sleep disorders. In fact, roughly 22 million American adults suffer from the condition. So even if you don’t have sleep apnea, you almost certainly know somebody who does.

Sleep apnea is caused by obstructed airways, which in turn can be caused by many different conditions and factors. Let’s go over some of the more common factors that can result in sleep apnea, and also some potential solutions.

Keep in mind, however, that sleep apnea may be linked to a serious underlying condition. It’s best to speak with a sleep apnea expert, who can help you identify underlying causes and also appropriate solutions.

1. Overweight People Are More Likely to Suffer From Sleep Apnea

Obesity and being overweight are believed to be the most common causes of sleep apnea. For example, while children typically don’t suffer from sleep apnea, obese children see their risks increase by 46% when compared to the general population.

In fact, for each unit increase of the Body Mass Index -a common way to measure obesity- the risk of sleep apnea increases by 14%. So why is obesity so closely linked to sleep apnea? As you gain weight, fat builds around your neck and other parts of your body, putting pressure on your airways, thus constricting them. This makes it more likely that airflow will be disrupted or even blocked.

There are many solutions. The best is losing weight. Surgery can also be used to remove excess fat in key areas. Another possible solution is a CPAC machine, which will help ensure better airflow.

2. Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ disorders) are another common cause of sleep apnea. TMJ disorders are characterized by pain and stiffness in jaw joints and the muscles connected to said joints. TMJ disorders can be caused by a number of underlying factors, such as arthritic joint changes or an injury.

TMJ disorders have been linked to sleep apnea and specifically constricted airways. Besides causing a poor night’s sleep, TMJ disorders can make it difficult for people to eat food and sleep. If you or a loved one suffer from a TMJ disorder, it’s important to address it. Solutions include physical therapy, prescription medication, and surgery.

3. Sleeping on the Wrong Bed

A lot of people prefer to sleep on soft beds. There’s just something about snuggling up in a soft, cozy bed. Unfortunately, that soft bed may not be providing you or your loved one with enough support. As your body settles into an unnatural position, your airways could become obstructed.

A firmer mattress or spring box could provide more support. If you really love soft beds, you may be able to find special mattresses that are soft but still provide extra support. If you or your partner tend to toss in bed, it’s quite possibly due to insufficient support.

4. Using the Wrong Pillow

Another common cause of sleep apnea is your choice of pillow. Your pillow goes a long way in determining your posture, especially in the neck and head regions. If the pillow is too thick, for example, it could create unnatural bends in your neck.

Fortunately, numerous pillows have been designed specifically for those who suffer from sleep apnea. These pillows may provide extra support and help ensure a correct posture. Finding the correct pillow is often a matter of trial and error.

5. Your Sleeping Position May Constrict Airways

Another major factor in determining your posture is your sleeping position and airflow. Consider that when you sleep on your back, your lungs have to fight against gravity to push air out.

Sleeping on your stomach, on the other hand, means you won’t have to fight against gravity. Yet, sleeping on your stomach can lead to other issues that create sleep apnea. For example, your mouth or nose may be blocked by your pillow.

Indeed, many argue that sleeping on your side, in a lateral position, is actually the best solution. Your mouth and nose will be less likely to be blocked, while your lungs won’t have to fight gravity.

Conclusion: Treat Your Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious but common condition. It can be caused by a wide range of issues. While this complicates things, it also means there are a variety of ways to treat the condition. If you or a loved one suffer from sleep apnea, it’s important to address it. First, however, you need to determine what’s causing your airways to be obstructed.

Sally Johnson

Sally Johnson is a Family, Educational, and Corporate Sleep, Specialist. I am a Family, Educational, and Corporate Sleep Specialist based in Ohio. As Lead Writer for, ask me any sleep questions.