ZocdocAnswersWhat does it mean if I occasionally stop breathing in my sleep?

Question

What does it mean if I occasionally stop breathing in my sleep?

My girlfriend told me that sometimes when I?m snoring at night I stop breathing and she gets freaked out and wakes me up. Sometimes I wake up during the night coughing too. What?s going on? Do I have to have a sleep study done?

Answer

I am sorry that you have been experiencing these episodes during your sleep. It must be frightening for your girlfriend. It is likely that you have sleep apnea and you should follow up with your primary care physician to discuss your symptoms and possible management. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that involves the pause or decrease in airflow despite persistent breathing effort. This can be associated with excessive daytime sleepiness and other signs of poor sleeping like snoring and restlessness. The prevalence of OSA is about 20% in the general population, so it is a fairly common diagnosis. This usually occurs because of a decrease in airway size while sleeping. So, while your brain is telling your body to take a breath, your airway has partial or complete collapse and does not allow air to pass. Snoring is an attempt your body makes to keep your airway open. There are various different treatments for OSA ranging from machines that give you positive pressure while sleeping to surgery. Since there can be various components to the cause of OSA, you should follow up with your primary care physician for a full discussion of your symptoms, physical exam specifically looking at your tonsils and airway anatomy, and possible referral to either an ear-nose-throat or sleep specialist for possible sleep study.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.