Muscles in the back of the throat which support the soft palate, the uvula, the tonsils and the tongue over-relax. This makes it impossible to breathe properly for up to 10 or 20 seconds at a time. Your brain realizes that it needs oxygen and wakes you up until you start breathing normally again.
Most sleep apnea sufferers gasp, snort, or make a choking sound when this happens. This pattern may repeat itself all night long for as often as 30 or more times per hour. These episodes can be measured by sleep testing providing the patient with an AHI (Apnea-Hypopnea Index) rating. An AHI of more than 5 is abnormal and 30 is considered to be severe obstructive sleep apnea.
It’s common for people not to remember all these awakenings and believe they slept through the night. The problem is that normal sleep patterns are severely disrupted and sufferers don’t go through the stages of sleep as they should. The result is that most people with sleep apnea aren’t aware of it, so it continues untreated, posing quite a number of health risks.