What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that affects a person’s breathing while they sleep. This can affect how much oxygen reaches the brain and other parts of the body.

What are the different types of sleep apnea?

The different types of sleep apnea include:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common. OSA is when the soft tissue in the back of the throat blocks the air going in and out of the throat.
  • Central sleep apnea is less common than OSA. This is when the brain does not tell the muscles that control breathing to work properly.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome is when a person has both OSA and central sleep apnea.

What are the risk factors for sleep apnea?

The risk factors for OSA include:

  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Low muscle tone caused by medical conditions such as Down syndrome and muscular dystrophy
  • Certain medical conditions that cause changes to the shape of the face, such as Crouzon Syndrome and Pierre-Robin sequence

The risk factors for central sleep apnea include:

  • Neurological (brain and nerve) disorders such as Chiari malformation
  • Heart disorders
  • Using opioids (prescription pain medications)

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

The symptoms of sleep apnea affect sleep, school and everyday activities. It can also cause other symptoms.

  • Sleep
  • Loud snoring
  • Pause in breathing while sleeping (You might notice this before your child does.)
  • Restlessness or trouble sleeping
  • School and everyday activities
  • Not doing well in school
  • Trouble concentrating or staying awake during the day, even after getting a full night's sleep

Other symptoms

  • Headaches or dry throat, especially in the morning


Rev. 2/2018. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This webpage is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.