Sleep apnea is interrupted breathing during sleep. A classic sign of apnea is snoring. Breathing can stop for about 10 seconds and last for 1 minute due to a mechanical problem in the airway. Every time the airway closes, the person wakes up enough to contract their muscles and continue breathing.
During sleep apnea, the oxygen level in the blood drops which can lead to pulmonary hypertension and stroke. The person with apnea does not notice their disrupted breathing; usually a spouse or family member observes the episodes.
Continuously waking during the night to breathe can occur 100 times and cause headaches, decreased mental function, and death. An Epworth Quiz (pdf) may be given to determine if a sleep study will benefit the patient.
Our Health Library has additional information on Sleep Apnea.