Sleep apnea has many possible causes. The most common causes include an age over 60, obesity (BMI >30), and having excess weight around the neck. Men with a neck circumference of 17 inches or more are at increased risk, and women with a neck circumference of 16 inches or more are at risk. Female weight gain and neck size usually increase after menopause, making menopause another risk factor. These create risk because excess neck weight easily blocks the upper respiratory tract airway.

Some other physical characteristics that put you at risk include:

  • narrow upper jaws
  • receding chins
  • overbites
  • enlarged soft palates
  • increased tongue size

These all pose risks of obstructing the airway during sleep. Swollen tonsil or adenoids are also possible causes for an obstructed airway, and can be surgically removed if needed. Chronic nasal congestion, either from allergies or an anatomical problem, can cause a swollen or obstructed airway or nasal passage during sleep, causing sleep apnea.

Smokers are also 3 times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than non-smokers. Smoking increases fluid retention and inflammation around the upper respiratory tract, which may serve to block the airway during sleep. 


By: Jennifer LaBombard