Sleep and Aging

Sleep apnea and snoring are two examples of sleep-disordered breathing -- conditions that make it more difficult to breathe during sleep. When severe, these disorders may cause people to wake up often at night and be drowsy during the day.

Snoring

Snoring is a very common condition affecting nearly 40 percent of adults. It is more common among older people and those who are overweight. When severe, snoring not only causes frequent awakenings at night and daytime sleepiness, it can also disrupt a bed partner's sleep.

Snoring is caused by a partial blockage of the airway passage from the nose and mouth to the lungs. The blockage causes the tissues in these passages to vibrate, leading to the noise produced when someone snores.

Sleep Apnea: Two Types

There are two kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when air entering from the nose or mouth is either partially or completely blocked, usually because of obesity or extra tissue in the back of the throat and mouth. If these episodes occur frequently or are severe, they may cause a person's sleep to be fragmented throughout the night. This may disrupt their sleep and make them sleepy during the day.
  • Central sleep apnea is less common. It occurs when the brain doesn't send the right signals to start the breathing process. Often, both types of sleep apnea occur in the same person.

Obstructive sleep apnea is more common among older adults and among people who are significantly overweight. Obstructive sleep apnea can increase a person's risk for high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, and cognitive problems. However, more research is needed to understand the long-term consequences of obstructive sleep apnea in older adults.