What Triggers Make Me More at Risk for Sleep Apnea?

What Triggers Make Me More at Risk for Sleep Apnea?

According to the World Health Organization, about two thirds of adults around the world get fewer than 8 hours of sleep per night. Lack of high-quality sleep is now associated with everything from increased risk of diabetes to increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Concurrent with the epidemic of sleeplessness is a rise in the number of people who suffer from a sleep breathing disorder called sleep apnea. An estimated 22 million people in the United States have sleep apnea, which means they may stop breathing for seconds at a time, multiple times a night. 

At South County Sleep Solutions in Newport Beach, California, our sleep specialist, Dana J. Rockey, DMD, diagnoses and treats sleep apnea. If you snore or feel sleepy during the day, you may have sleep apnea. Here’s what triggers it.

Obesity or excess weight

One of the prime risk factors and triggers for sleep apnea is obesity. The most common type of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With OSA, some physical structure interferes with the passage of oxygen into your lungs through your nose or throat.

When you weigh more than is healthy for your height, the extra pounds put pressure on your body, which makes it harder to breathe. Specifically, overweight and obese people may have thick or fat necks or tongues that block their airways at night.

Not sure if losing weight will really help your sleep apnea? According to the Obesity Medicine Association, if you gain just 10% of your body weight, you’re six times more likely to progress from mild sleep apnea to serious sleep apnea. The good news is, if you lose 10% of your body weight, your OSA can improve by 20%. 

If you think too much weight is interfering with your sleep, we recommend a healthy approach to weight loss. Through movement, exercise, and a whole-foods diet, you take stress off your frame — and your airway — so you can sleep better all night long.

Alcohol or sleeping pills

You may think a nightcap helps you to sleep. But alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and a powerful sleep disruptor that can wake you up several hours after it “puts you out.” Alcohol also prevents you from dreaming; dreams are the brain’s way of solidifying memories.

You take a nightcap to fall asleep. You’re out like a light. But during the night, you wake up multiple times and you never get the restorative rest you need. At night, you’re tired but you can’t sleep, so you take another drink. The cycle repeats.

Sedatives and tranquilizers have a similar effect. While they may make you drowsy, they don’t give you deep, restorative sleep. In fact, long-term use of sedatives and tranquilizers can cause daytime drowsiness and may even impair cognition.

Another reason to avoid sedatives, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and alcohol at night are that all of them are muscle relaxants. If your facial muscles relax too much when you sleep, they can block your airway, and trigger disruptive snoring and apneas (pauses in your breathing).


As if you needed another reason to quit smoking, smoking cigarettes increases inflammation in your tissues, including the tissues in your mouth and throat. Inflamed tissues are bulkier and heavier, so they’re more likely to block your airway.

In addition, smoking causes you to retain fluids in your upper airway, which makes it harder to breathe. If you’re a smoker, talk to Dr. Rockey. He can refer you to a smoking cessation program.

Untreated medical conditions

If you’ve been ignoring your health or are reluctant to treat your health issues, you may inadvertently trigger episodes of sleep apnea. 

Some medical conditions that are associated with sleep apnea are:

Unfortunately, sleep apnea itself only makes medical conditions worse, increasing your risk for potentially life-threatening events such as heart attack and stroke.

Find out what triggers your sleep apnea and find the remedy that works for you by scheduling a sleep consultation or sleep apnea treatment today. Give us a call at 949-558-0554 or use our online booking form.

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