Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that causes breathing problems during sleep. Your breathing may slow down more than it should, become too shallow, or stop altogether. Sleep apnea is a serious but treatable medical condition; consult your doctor if you have concerns.

What causes sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea can be caused by:

  • Medical conditions that affect your hormones
  • Disorders that affect your brain or nerves, such as a stroke, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Chiari malformations
  • Heart problems
  • Kidney conditions
  • Certain genetic disorders
  • Obesity
  • Large tonsils

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom's profile picture
Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom is a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialty practice in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Areas of expertise include insomnia and other sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression.

Dr Ehrnstrom is the co-author of the book End the Insomnia Struggle: A Step by Step Guide to Help you Get to Sleep and Stay Asleep which offers a comprehensive, personalized sleep program that integrates the physiology of sleep, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

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