What Does Sleep Apnea Sound Like?

What Does Sleep Apnea Sound Like?

What does sleep apnea sound like? Can it be treated? Stellar Sleep discusses this common sleep condition and what you can do about it.

Sleep apnea is one of the few medical conditions that can start to be diagnosed based on sound alone. However, knowing the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea is step one in getting appropriately diagnosed and treated. 

What does sleep apnea sound like? What can be done about it if you are given that diagnosis? Stellar Sleep discusses the basics of this common condition.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes numerous, temporary lapses in breathing as a person sleeps. While some of the side effects of sleep apnea (like excessive daytime sleepiness and morning headaches) can be disruptive, the most significant concern is that these pauses in breathing can lead to a lack of oxygen in the body.

There are two different forms of sleep apnea: central sleep apnea (CSA) and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Both forms can impact your overall health but are caused by different underlying factors. Central sleep apnea is more neurologic in nature (involving poor signaling between the brain and the body), while obstructive sleep apnea is related to physical airway issues.

What Does Sleep Apnea Sound Like?

While nearly half of American adults snore in their sleep, there’s a difference between occasional sleep snorting and snoring and the more significant signs of sleep apnea. 

One of the ways to tell the difference between “regular” snoring and sleep apnea is to pay attention to the breathing patterns. Regular snoring tends to occur rhythmically, while sleep apnea is often far more erratic. In addition, non-apnea-related snoring doesn’t involve those tell-tale pauses in breathing or the gasping that can occur when breathing returns. 

What Health Conditions Can Mimic Sleep Apnea?

Certain health conditions can present similar signs and symptoms as sleep apnea, which is why it is essential to undergo a sleep study to be officially diagnosed. 

For example, congestive heart failure, hyperparathyroidism, and insomnia can also involve a change in daytime alertness and drowsiness, while morning headaches can be triggered by allergies, fibromyalgia, hypertension, and temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ).

Any new physical symptoms should be evaluated by a medical professional.

How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?

If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, your thoughts have probably turned to how to treat it. Luckily, there is plenty of research on the effectiveness of sleep apnea treatments. 

Treating sleep apnea is just as beneficial as taking steps to reduce your risk factors. With time, sleep apnea may even resolve (depending on which form you’re dealing with) if you follow medical advice and recommendations appropriately.


Sleep apnea and CPAP machines go hand in hand — they’re one of the most popular and effective treatment options available to help treat the signs and symptoms of the disorder. 

CPAP is short for continuous positive airway pressure, which describes how these machines support people with sleep apnea snorers. When you wear them, they “force” pressurized air into the airways to keep them from collapsing. Even without additional oxygen, CPAP machines can help increase blood oxygen levels in the body.

It can take some time to adjust to having to wear a CPAP machine as you sleep, as even the smallest machines are bulky and can be awkward to wear. However, these machines also keep track of your “compliance” level, so seeing the difference they can make when you wear them consistently can be enough to make the temporary discomfort worthwhile. 

Try Lifestyle Changes

Making specific lifestyle changes can also help improve the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea. The most significant way to minimize your symptoms is by losing weight. Being overweight can put additional pressure on the airways, making them more likely to temporarily collapse. 

Even taking steps to make a small change in your weight can be enough to give you (and your bed partner) some relief. Plus, keeping your body at a healthy weight can help reduce your risk of developing many other health conditions as well.

Your sleep position (and overall sleep hygiene) can also contribute to sleep apnea. Loud snoring is more likely to happen when people sleep on their backs (as more pressure gets placed on the soft tissues of the upper airways). Sleeping on your side or stomach, provided you don’t need to wear a CPAP machine, can reduce the likelihood of snoring or temporary airway collapse. 

Address Risk Factors

There are also a variety of risk factors that can exacerbate the symptoms of sleep apnea. 

Medical conditions that can increase the risk of developing sleep apnea include those that impact the cardiovascular system (like heart disease and high blood pressure) and endocrine system (like diabetes and thyroid dysfunction). In addition, obesity and swelling of the adenoids and/or tonsils can also obstruct airflow through the upper airway and the back of the throat. 

It can also help to know your family history if you suspect sleep apnea. In some cases, sleep apnea can be genetic, as can many factors that contribute to developing the condition. Being aware of any potential genetic predisposition can motivate you to make changes to prevent them.

See a Sleep Specialist

Think you may have sleep apnea? It may be time to take a trip to a sleep medicine specialist. Sleep specialists are the gateway to diagnosing and treating sleep apnea appropriately. They can order sleep studies and discuss treatment options (like CPAP therapy and oral appliances/mouthpieces) so that you can get more restful, quality sleep.

The Bottom Line

What does sleep apnea sound like? If your bed partner is telling you that your snoring has been keeping them up at night or you’re noticing that you don’t wake up feeling rested and refreshed, it may be time to seek medical care. 

Take Stellar Sleep’s free sleep quiz for other ways to improve your sleep. High-quality sleep requires a combination of physiological and psychological techniques — a CBT-I coach can help you navigate the information and develop a concrete game plan.


What Is Sleep Apnea? | NHLBI, NIH

Snoring – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure | StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf

Cultivating Lifestyle Transformations in Obstructive Sleep Apnea | PMC

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