Sleep Apnea and Micro-awakenings: What You Should Know Sleep Apnea and Micro-awakenings: What You Should Know

Sleep Apnea and Micro-awakenings: What You Should Know

Before 26 July, 2016 Isabel Vallejo


Pauses in breathing during sleep are called sleep apneas. Although they may often go unnoticed, they may also prove to be harmful to your health.

Among the existing types of sleep apnea, the most common type is obstructive apnea, which occurs as a result of a blockage of the upper airway, especially when sleeping on your back. When this occurs, the autonomic nervous system sends a stimulus that disrupts sleep and forces breathing to resume.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains that often times when a person resumes normal breathing, they can produce a “loud snort or choking sound”. Therefore, the first person to notice the signs of sleep apnea is usually not the sufferer, but a family member or someone sleeping next to that person.

This interruption in sleep when the stimulus occurs is also known as micro-awakenings. Micro awakenings are when, although the person is not aware that they woke up or may not have woken up at all, the phase of deep sleep in which the person was immerse is interrupted, moving them on to a lighter stage of sleep.

Aside from the poor quality of sleep due to apnea, this disorder can trigger other diseases such as cardiac arrhythmias among other side effects that can lead to the onset of chronic diseases such as hypertension, strokes and cardiovascular problems.

It is thus important to diagnose apneas early. If you feel that your sleep was not restful enough, if you feel excessively tired and sleepy during the day, and/or if you have noticed that you are snoring loudly or producing sounds such as those mentioned above during your sleep, it may be time to consult with a sleep specialist.

Sleep phases:

  • Rapid eye movement sleep (REM): It is the sleep stage in which dreams occur.
  • Non-REM phase: Apneas occur during this phase of light sleep, as well as during that of deep sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea affects 4% to 8% of the population, currently being one of the most common reasons for consultations on sleep disorders.